Almonds for Health and Nutrition
The delicately flavored and versatile almond is available throughout the year and makes a healthy and tasty addition to both sweet and savory dishes and are delicious as a snack.
The almond that we think of as a nut is technically the seed of the fruit of the almond tree, a medium-size tree that bears fragrant pink and white flowers.
Lower LDL-Cholesterol and Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease
A high-fat food that’s good for your health? That’s not an oxymoron, its almonds. Almonds are high in monounsaturated fats, the same type of health-promoting fats which have been associated with reduced risk of heart disease.
Four human epidemiological studies, including the Nurses Health Study, the Iowa Health Study, the Adventist Health Study and the Physicians Health Study, all found that nut consumption is linked to a lower risk for heart disease. Researchers who studied data from the Nurses Health Study estimated that substituting nuts for an equivalent amount of carbohydrate in an average diet resulted in a 30% reduction in heart disease risk. Researchers calculated even more impressive risk reduction–45%–when fat from nuts was substituted for saturated fats.
This reduced risk of heart disease may be due, in part, to the antioxidant action of the vitamin E found in the almonds, as well as to the LDL-lowering effect of almonds’ monounsaturated fats. (LDL is the form of cholesterol that has been linked to atherosclerosis and heart disease). When almonds are substituted for more traditional fats in human feeding trials, LDL cholesterol can be reduced considerably.
In addition to healthy fats and vitamin E, a quarter-cup of almonds contains almost 98 mg of magnesium (that’s 30.5% of the daily value for this important mineral), plus 258 mg of potassium.
Magnesium is Nature’s own calcium channel blocker. When there is enough magnesium around, veins and arteries breathe a sigh of relief and relax, which lessens resistance and improves the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients throughout the body.
Potassium, is an important electrolyte involved in nerve transmission and the contraction of all muscles including the heart and is essential for maintaining normal blood pressure and heart function. Almonds promote cardiovascular health by providing 298 mg of potassium and only 0.4 mg of sodium which makes almonds an especially good choice in protecting against high blood pressure and atherosclerosis.
Healthy Fats May Help You Lose Weight and Lower Cholesterol
A study published in the November 2003 issue of the International journal of Obesity and related Metabolic Disorders that included 65 overweight and obese adults suggests that an almond enriched low calorie diet, being high in monounsaturated fats, can help overweight individuals shed pounds more effectively than a low calorie diet high in complex carbohydrates.
Those on the almond enriched low calorie diet consumed 39% of their calories in the form of fat, 25% of which was monounsaturated fat. In contrast, those on the low calorie diet high in complex carbohydrates consumed only 18% of their calories as fat of which 5% was monounsaturated fat, while 53% of their calories were derived from carbohydrate.
Both diets supplied the same number of calories and equivalent amounts of protein. After 6 months those on the almond enriched diet had 62% greater reductions in weight, 50% greater reduction in waist circumference, and 56% greater reduction in body fat compared to those on the low calorie high carbohydrate diet. Among those subjects who had type 1 diabetes, diabetic medication reductions were sustained and further reduced by 95% of those on the almond enriched diet versus in 50% of those on the complex carbohydrate diet.
January 2, 2004 . Another study done in relationship to Almonds and Heart Health was conducted on three groups of men and women with high blood cholesterol and these were placed on a basic heart-healthy, low saturated fat diet comprising of whole foods. One group consumed additional fat in the form of almonds (approximately 100gr), these being rich in monounsaturated fat.
Another group consumed olive oil (48gr), also a rich monounsaturated fat source. The third group consumed butter (28gr) and cheddar cheese (85gr), rich sources of saturated fat. All three groups took in substantially more fat than the recommended 30% of calories, the almond group – 39%, the olive oil group 35% and the butter and cheese group 35%.
After four weeks, the almond based diet significantly lowered total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (the so-called bad cholesterol) level while preserving high-density lipoprotein (the good cholesterol) levels. In contrast cholesterol levels decreased only slightly in the olive oil group and increased in the butter/cheese group.
Getting to the meat of the almond effect – there are a number of hypotheses offered in the paper as to why the almond rich diet might be so successful at lowering blood cholesterol levels.
First, the almonds are a good source of monounsaturated fat (10gr per 28 grams) and contain very little saturated fat (1gr per 28 grams). Moreover as a plant based food, almonds contain absolutely no cholesterol.
Second, almonds contain substantial amounts of dietary fibre (3gr per 28 grams). Scientists now know that dietary fibre can have cholesterol-lowering effects. While the total amount of dietary fibre was similar among the three study groups, the type of dietary fibre was not. It may be the unique dietary fibres present in the almonds that played a decisive role in reducing cholesterol levels.
Third, the explanation offered is the action of compounds found in almonds known as phytochemicals, such as plant sterols and saponins, which have been found to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
Fourth, the arginine-rich proteins found in almonds have been documented to have beneficial effects on blood lipids when compared to animal proteins.
When you eat whole foods rather than food extracts or supplements, said Dr Spiller, you are probably taking in hundreds of compounds that could play a role in cholesterol lowering and in other health promoting processes. While our study findings are suggestive rather than conclusive, one thing we can say with confidence is that individuals following cholesterol-lowering diets should consider including almonds in their diet.
Eat Almonds – Breathe Better
Scientists keep finding more reasons to enjoy Almonds. Two researchers from Cornell University found that diets rich in antioxidants (almonds are loaded with these) are linked to improved lung function. In fact they believe these chemicals may even prevent respiratory disease such as asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
The researchers said there are significant benefits associated with consuming high levels of the antioxidants beta-carotene and selenium. These substances protect cells from biochemical damage. The antioxidant vitamins C and E were also found to be protective. Selenium, which is found in almonds and certain other nuts, as well as meats, fish and cereals, was shown to be especially protective for smokers.
Patricia Casano – epidemiologist in Cornell’s Division of Nutritional Sciences, and her fellow researcher, Guizhou Hu, said the positive aspects of consuming foods containing antioxidants were comparable to the difference in lung function between a non-smoker and a long-term smoker.
Biotin–An Energy-Boosting B-Vitamin
Almonds are an excellent source of biotin, a B-vitamin involved in the metabolism of both sugar and fat. Since a mere quarter-cup of almonds provides 75.7% of the daily value for biotin, eating almonds may help your energy production, skin health and nervous system function.
In sugar metabolism, biotin helps move sugar from its initial stages of processing on to its conversion into usable chemical energy. For this reason, muscle cramps and pains related to physical exertion, which can be the result of the body’s inability to use sugar efficiently as fuel, may signal a biotin deficiency.
Many of the classic biotin deficiency symptoms involve skin-related problems, and the role of biotin in fat synthesis is often cited as a reason for this biotin-skin link. Biotin is required for the function of an enzyme in the body called acetyl Co-A carboxylase, which puts together the building blocks for the production of fat in the body.
In infants, the most common biotin-deficiency symptom is cradle cap. In adults, the equivalent skin condition is called seborrheic dermatitis. Because glucose and fat are used for energy within the nervous system, biotin also functions as a supportive vitamin in this area. Numerous nerve-related symptoms have been linked to biotin deficiency including lack of muscle coordination (ataxia), and lack of good muscle tone (hypotonia).
As many as 50% of pregnant women may be deficient in biotin, a deficiency that may increase the risk of birth defects. Preliminary research found laboratory evidence of biotin deficiency both in the early (first trimester) and late (third trimester) stages of pregnancy.
Almonds Help with Energy Production
Almonds are a good source of the trace minerals manganese and copper, both of which are essential cofactors of a key oxidative enzyme called super oxide dismutase. Super oxide dismutase disarms free radicals produced within the mitochondria (the energy production factories within our cells), thus keeping our energy flowing. Fortunately, Mother Nature supplies both mineral cofactors in almonds. Just one-quarter cup of almonds supplies 25.7% of the daily value for manganese, and 15.6% of the daily value for copper. Riboflavin (vitamin B2) also plays at least two important roles in the body’s energy production. When active in energy production pathways, riboflavin takes the form of flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD) or flavin mononucleotide (FMN). In these forms, riboflavin attaches to protein enzymes called flavoproteins that allow oxygen-based energy production to occur.
Flavoproteins are found throughout the body, particularly in locations where oxygen-based energy production is constantly needed, such as the heart and other muscles. Riboflavin’s other role in energy production is protective.
The oxygen-containing molecules the body uses to produce energy can be highly reactive and can inadvertently cause damage to the mitochondria and even the cells themselves. In the mitochondria, such damage is largely prevented by a small, protein-like molecule called glutathione. Like many “antioxidant” molecules, glutathione must be constantly recycled, and it is vitamin B2 that allows this recycling to take place. (Technically, vitamin B2 is a cofactor for the enzyme glutathione reductase that reduces the oxidized form of glutathione back to its reduced version.) That same one-quarter cup of almonds will supply your cells with 26.4% of the daily value for riboflavin.
Promote Colon Health
In an animal study of the effect of almonds on colon cancer, animals were exposed to a colon-cancer causing agent and fed, almond meal, almond oil, whole almonds or a control diet containing no almonds. The animals given whole almonds showed fewer signs of colon cancer, including fewer rapidly dividing cells. One reason may be almonds high fiber content: just a quarter-cup of almonds contains 4 grams of fiber, that’s 21% of the daily value for fibre.
Help prevent Gallstones
Twenty years of dietary data collected on 80,718 women from the Nurses’ Health Study shows that women who eat at least 28 grams of nuts each week have a 25% lower risk of developing gallstones.
A Good Source of Protein
Almonds are 20% protein. A quarter-cup contains 7.55 grams–15.1% of the daily value for protein and more protein than is provided by the typical egg, which contains 5.54 grams.
Tips for Preparing Almonds
Whole shelled almonds can be chopped by hand or can be placed in a food processor. If using a food processor, it is best to pulse on and off a few times, instead of running the blade constantly, as this will help ensure that you end up with chopped almonds rather than almond butter.
If you want to remove the almonds’ skin, blanch them for a few of minutes until you notice the skin beginning to swell. Drain them and then rinse under cold water. Pinch the cooled almonds between your thumb and index finger, and the skin should slide right off the almond meat.
Avoid Roasted Almonds
The commercial roasting process of nuts is a form of deep-frying, usually in saturated fat, such as coconut oil and palm kernel oil. Deep-fried foods have been linked to high levels of LDL (the bad form of cholesterol) and to thickening of larger artery walls, so it is always best to avoid buying roasted almonds.
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