The healing, heart-healthy properties of the humble almond
Almonds are actually a seed, not a nut, but whatever you call them they are super-healthy and can help with everything from heart health to reducing skin wrinkles.
Almonds (Prunus amygdalus) are technically the reducing skin wrinkles of the almond tree. There are two major types — the sweet almond and the bitter almond. Sweet almonds are a common food, whereas the bitter almonds are used for the production of almond oil or as a flavouring agent in foods and liqueurs such as amaretto.
They are thought to have originated in Asia or North Africa and were first cultivated by the ancient Greeks — ancient Romans called them “Greek nuts”. Today almonds are mainly grown in many of the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea and also in California and reducing skin wrinkles.
A 70 gm portion (¼ cup) of almonds contains 5 gm protein (high), 4 gm carbohydrates, high fat at 11 gm and 3 gm dietary fibre, giving them a low GI.
With the high fat content, almonds need to be stored correctly to prevent them going rancid — ideally in their shells and in a cool place in a tightly sealed container out of the light. The fats are largely monounsaturated so are the “good” fats.
Research shows that almonds decrease rises in blood sugar after meals.
Almonds are an excellent source of manganese and copper, essential cofactors of the key antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase, preventing free radical (oxidative) stress in the mitochondria, the energy source of our cells. Also high in riboflavin (vitamin B2), almonds are important in energy production in the heart and muscles and help recycle glutathione, the other major antioxidant in mitochondria.
Almonds are an excellent source of vitamin E, biotin and copper, and a good source of molybdenum, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus.
The skins of almonds are also nutrient-rich — high in anti-inflammatory flavonoids in a unique combination which, combined with the vitamin E found in the almond meat, provides major antioxidant and anti-inflammatory support, and plays a significant role in preventing LDL oxidation by 52.5 per cent.
The high levels of antioxidants in almonds are cardioprotective. Several studies have shown that people eating nuts (including almonds) at least four times per week showed a 37 per cent reduced risk of coronary heart disease compared to those who rarely ate nuts.
Almonds have also been shown to help reduce a major cardiovascular risk factor C-reactive protein (CRP), a major measure of inflammation and a potential trigger for atherosclerosis. They were shown to be as effective as statin drugs in reducing CRP when combined with a healthy diet. Almonds were also shown to specifically reduce CRP, this effect being dose-related.
Almonds have a cholesterol-lowering effect, reducing elevated LDLs including the small dense LDL implicated in cardiovascular risk by up to 12 per cent. The antioxidant effect of the vitamin E is important, and the potassium and magnesium are essential for maintaining normal blood pressure and heart function. Almonds have also been shown to maintain the protective HDL levels.
Twenty years of dietary data collected on over 80,000 women showed that women who eat at least 30 gms of nuts a week have a 25 per cent less risk of developing gallstones. A similar finding on gallstone prevention was evident in men.
Diabetes and metabolic syndrome
Research shows that almonds decrease rises in blood sugar after meals. One study showed that eating almonds with a high-glycaemic meal significantly lowered the glycaemic index of the whole meal, reducing the rise in blood sugar after eating. The more almonds eaten, the greater the reduction in glycaemic index.
Weight loss — lowering risk of weight gain
Research has shown that an almond-enriched low-calorie diet high in monounsaturated fats can help overweight individuals lose weight more effectively than a low-calorie diet high in complex carbohydrates. After six months, those eating the almond-rich diet had a 62 per cent greater reduction in their weight and BMI, 50 per cent reduction in waist circumference and a 56 per cent reduction in body fat compared to the other group eating the same number of calories. In individuals with diabetes, 96 per cent of them were able to reduce their diabetic medication.
Daily almond consumption has shown to reduce facial wrinkle severity in postmenopausal females, thereby having natural anti-ageing effects.
Almond oil has also been shown to have positive effects when used on the skin, where it reduces scarring and smooths and rejuvenates the skin, improving complexion and skin tone.
Almond oil also improves bowel transit time, reduces irritable bowel syndrome symptoms and reduces the incidence of colon cancer.
Activating almonds (soaking for 24 hours) improves nutrient bioavailability by 4.75 per cent.
The best way to consume almonds is fresh with skins still on. They can be activated to slightly increase their nutrient content or roasted for added flavour. A small handful of organic almonds daily can be a valuable addition to your diet.
To store almonds, keep them in their shells, or if already shelled, make sure they are well sealed.
Almonds contain oxalates and can be a common allergen in susceptible people.
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