Almonds: A Heart-Healthy Nut

Almonds have a long history; first referenced in the Bible, they were also used to make bread for Egyptian pharaohs. Now, the pharaohs weren’t exactly known for their healthy lifestyles, but almonds were one of their better dietary choices. In fact, regularly incorporating almonds into your diet (unsalted are best) can lower your risk for heart disease and improve cholesterol levels, making almonds a great snack for older adults.

Almonds-a-Heart-Healthy-Nut

Almond Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

1. Almonds are heart smart.

One ounce of raw almonds (about 23 kernels) contains 14 grams of fat, of which 8.7 are monounsaturated, the same kind of heart-healthy fat that’s found in avocados and olive oil. Eaten in moderation, monounsaturated fats can have a positive impact on your health. Monounsaturated fat is a key feature of the Mediterranean Diet, a healthy eating plan that’s linked to increased longevity and reduced chronic pain.

The recently released Canadian Cardiovascular Society Guidelines recommend regular nut consumption as a way of improving cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Monounsaturated fat also helps lowers inflammation and bad low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol while simultaneously increasing healthy high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, lowering heart disease risk.

2. Almonds are a source of dietary calcium.

Getting your calcium from dietary sources like almonds (as opposed to calcium supplements) has several advantages. Your body absorbs calcium better when it gets it in smaller doses throughout the day, rather than all at once. It’s also recommended that people over age 50 take in as much as 1,000 milligrams of calcium every day — 1 ounce of raw almonds provides 75 milligrams of calcium, or just under 10% of the recommended daily intake.

3. Almonds are high in vitamin E.

One ounce of raw almonds provides 7 milligrams of this all-important vitamin, or 37% of the recommended daily intake. Vitamin E, along with vitamin C and beta-carotene, are the main antioxidants the body gets from food.

Antioxidants are chemicals that scavenge free radicals — chemicals either produced by the body as a result of normal energy production and functioning or from toxins and radiation in the environment. These free radicals create oxidative stress, which can damage DNA and cause inflammation — two mechanisms that lead to aging and chronic diseases, such as cancer. Free radicals are unstable molecules and antioxidants like vitamin E and vitamin C stabilize free radicals by breaking them down so they don’t harm our cells.

4. Almonds help reduce your risk of diabetes.

One study has shown that people who regularly eat nuts, such as almonds, are less likely to develop diabetes. For those who already have diabetes, nuts may help regulate blood sugar levels due to their fiber, protein and healthy fat content. Almonds also have a glycemic index of 0.

5. Almonds are high in fiber and protein.

One ounce of raw almonds contain 3.4 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein (a healthy balanced diet for older adults includes 25-38 grams of fiber a day). Studies show that people who regularly consume nuts do not see an increase in weight gain despite the high calories found in nuts, like almonds, pistachios and walnuts. One theory is that because almonds are high in fiber, protein and healthy fat, they keep you feeling full and satisfied.

(Remember this doesn’t give you free rein to eat a container of nuts in one sitting: a portion size of nuts is still only a small handful, or about 1/4 cup. If you’re watching your caloric intake, approximately 23 almonds equate to 120 calories)

How to Add Almonds Into Your Diet

Unsalted, raw almonds, accompanied by a piece of fruit, are the perfect, portable snack. Slivered or sliced almonds are great sprinkled on top of a breakfast bowl and a wonderful addition to salads or stir fries. Try lightly toasting almonds first to bring out their natural nutty flavor. Almond butter is also higher in nutrients than peanut butter; try it on whole grain crackers or a slice of ancient grain bread for a complete protein snack. Or add almond milk or almond meal to your favorite smoothie. If you’re on a low-carb eating plan or avoiding gluten, take a tip from the Egyptian pharaohs and choose breads made with almond flour.

Almond Milk

If you’re vegan, allergic to cow’s milk protein or have lactose intolerance, almond milk is a dairy-free milk alternative. However, not all almond milk is created equal.

At the supermarket, choose an almond milk labelled “unsweetened” and avoid unnecessary added sugar. Even better — make almond milk at home. One cup of almond milk contains 1 gram of protein, 6 carbs, 3 grams of fat, 315 milligrams of calcium and 25% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin D, a vitamin that half of adults don’t get enough of. Almond milk isn’t high in protein, but adding a handful of raw almonds to a meal can make up for this.

Sprouted Almonds

Sprouted almonds offer both nutritional and digestive benefits. Sprouting (or soaking) your almonds in water for an extended period of time can boost their nutritional profile.

Sara Korzeniewski, registered dietician and author of the The Organic Dietician summarizes the health benefits of sprouting nuts and seeds below:

  1. Soaking removes or reduces phytic acid: Phytic acid is in the outer layer or bran. It can block absorption of calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc which can cause mineral deficiencies and bone loss.
  2. Soaking neutralizes the enzyme inhibitors: Neutralizing these enzymes increases the production of beneficial enzymes that can aid in our digesting of these seeds.
  3. Soaking also increases vitamins (especially B), help break down gluten and make for easier digestion, make proteins more available for absorption, and neutralizes toxins in the colon.

After soaking your almonds, Korzeniewski recommends drying the almonds in a 170-degree oven or in a food dehydrator. Then use the almonds as you normally would in any recipe.

Blanched Almonds

Blanched almonds, which are simply raw almonds with the skin removed, are available in many gourmet and specialty food stores, as well as in some supermarkets. The blanching process is known to remove most of the antioxidant compounds of almonds, limiting the nut’s health benefits. Almond flour (or almond meal) is ground, blanched almonds. Almond flour is often used as a thickener in soups, sauces and salad dressings. Or, it can be substituted partially in recipes for baked goods that call for all-purpose flour.

To blanch almonds at home bring a pot of water to a boil; submerge the almonds in the boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Drain the almonds in a strainer and rinse them with cold water. Give the blanched almonds time to cool before peeling off the almond skin.

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