In reality, the almond is technically a seed, of the almond tree, rather than a nut, similar in that manner to cherry or apricot pits. However, fortunately for us, the almond seed/nut is edible and quite nutritious. People have been enjoying almonds since ancient times with references to them in the Bible and the Romans labeling almonds “the Greek nut.” It is thought the almond tree was originally native to North Africa and areas of Western Asia, but is now cultivated throughout the Mediterranean region, as well as in California in the United States. Almonds are available and popular worldwide.
Importance of True Raw Almonds
Before we discuss the many health benefits of almonds, it is critical to stress that not all almonds are “created” equal. When choosing almonds to include in your diet, make sure they are both organic and raw. Almonds that are cooked or processed not only lose many of their benefits, but can actually become harmful. However, you need to be aware that almonds labeled raw are not always truly “raw.” Most commercially grown almonds in the U.S. are sterilized by one of two methods: either using high temperatures (such as steaming) or fumigated with a chemical called propylene oxide. You don’t want almonds that have undergone either of these procedures. Heat treatments destroy many of the life-giving bioactive ingredients in almonds. Propylene oxide is a toxic carcinogen that has been banned for use on food products in Canada, Mexico, and the European Union.
Know the source of your almonds carefully, being sure to choose only almonds that are legitimately organic, raw, and untreated. Make sure they are fresh and not rancid, as this can cause free radicals to be present that are very harmful. Almonds in the shell are best, but shelled ones are OK as long as they have been kept cool and protected from moisture, air, and the sun.
How Can Raw Almonds Help Me Stay Well?
Almond nuts (seeds) are packed with numerous nutrients, and studies have shown that the almond is an excellent example of how a whole food, like almonds, can provide cumulative benefits, as the various components compliment one another. In other words, when it comes to the effects on your health, the whole (combined ingredients) is greater than the sum (individual ingredients).
According to a study, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, following a diet that includes almonds effectively lowers not only LDL cholesterol levels but also C-reactive protein levels, a key marker of inflammation.
Benefits of Almonds:
Vitamin E: This powerful vitamin is an excellent antioxidant.
Monounsaturated fat: This is the “good” kind of fat that your heart and arteries love — same type as found in olive oil.
Protein: A quarter cup of almonds has over seven grams of protein.
Magnesium: This important mineral helps your cardiovascular system to be more efficient, thus delivering more nutrients and oxygen to the body. It also protects the heart from free radical damage and acts as a natural channel blocker. One-fourth cup of almonds contains 99 mg of magnesium and 257 mg of potassium. When levels are high, your veins and arteries relax, allowing an increase in the flow of oxygen and nutrient rich blood.
Potassium: Necessary for optimal nerve and muscle functions. Also helps to stabilize the heart muscle and blood pressure.
Copper and manganese: These trace minerals are key components of an enzyme produced by the body called superoxide dismutase. This powerful substance is an excellent weapon against free radicals. It also stimulates the production of energy at both the cellular and bodily levels.
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): B2 also plays an important role in energy management, especially in areas such as the heart, lungs, brain, and other organs that are highly dependent on a rich oxygen supply.
Almonds have probiotic properties. Finely ground almonds seem to significantly increase the levels of beneficial bacteria. However, this effect is not seen when the fat content was removed from the almond preparation.
Lowered gallstone risk. Some studies have shown that consuming nuts can lower the risk of developing gallstones by 25 percent.
Weight Loss. A study, reported in an WHFood’s article about almonds, involving 8865 adults found that those who consumed nuts at least two times per week were 31% less likely to gain weight than were those who never or seldom consumed them.
Vitamin B17 Source. Raw and unpasteurized almonds are a good source of Vitamin B17.
How to Consume Raw Almonds
There are many creative ways to eat your daily supply of almonds. Some people shy away from almonds and other nuts because they are high in calories and they are afraid of gaining weight. Not to worry. Almonds are so nutrient-dense, that even one handful (approximately one quarter cup) per day can provide significant amounts of vitamins, minerals, protein, and other nutrients without excessive calories.
Try organic, raw, chopped almonds on salads, steamed vegetables, in yogurt and smoothies, on cereal, or just plain as a nutritious snack to boost your energy and help prevent disease. You can also use a food processor to make your own almond butter from raw almonds. This is delicious served on a celery stick or as a sandwich on whole grain bread.