Before getting into the numerous almond health benefits, you must know that well into the winter, when deciduous trees display their skeletal branches, the almond tree is covered with lovely white and pink blossoms, announcing the coming of spring.
Although almonds are considered nuts, the edible portion is the fruit’s seed, not its mesocarp or fleshy portion as in many other edible fruits. The edible outer greenish shell forms the fleshy part of the almond fruit. Almonds have been a benefit to the human diet for ages. Its nutritional and culinary properties make them a unique food, along with the tree that produces them.
Almond Scientific Facts
- Scientific name: Prunus amygdalus Batsch.
- Scientific synonym: Amygdalus communis L.
- Other names: Sweet almond.
- French: Amande.
- Spanish: Almendra.
- German: Mandel.
- Description: Dicotyledonous seed (formed of two dicotyledons and germ) of the fruit of the almond tree of the botanical family Rosaceae, which grows to 3 to 6 meters in height.
- Environment: The almond is from the Caucasus and the Near East. Its cultivation extended to Greece and Italy, Spain, and France. It adapts very well to dry, temperate regions around the Mediterranean. It is also grown in California and some areas of Mexico.
Almonds are rich in all primary nutrients, including:
PROTEIN: Almond proteins are easy to digest and offer the entire set of essential amino acids, surpassing quality among plant-based foods only by soy proteins. The percentage of proteins in almonds is exceptionally high (13.3 percent), bearing in mind that this is a vegetable product (meat and fish offer between 15 and 20 grams of proteins for every one hundred grams).
FAT: More than half of the weight of the almond is formed from fat. These fats are monounsaturated (34.1 percent) and polyunsaturated (11 percent) fatty acids, among which linolenic acid stands out. Linolenic acid performs essential tasks in the nervous system.
CARBOHYDRATES: Almonds contain less of this nutrient than proteins and fat. Therefore, it is well combined with bread or sweet dried fruit such as figs or raisins.
VITAMINS: Almonds are rich in vitamins B1, B6, and most of all, E. The vitamin C content is shallow (0.6 mg/100 grams).
MINERALS: Almonds are among the wealthiest plant-based foods in phosphorus and calcium. They also contain considerable amounts of iron, potassium, and magnesium. The calcium content of the almond is a whopping (247 mg/100 grams), making it more significant than milk, although, of course, the number of almonds that are usually eaten is much less than that of milk or dairy products.
However, it is not only the number of minerals that almonds contain but also how balanced their proportion is. Calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium in the blood must balance adequately. Therefore, the closer a food comes to that balance, the better the body’s overall health.
The optimal phosphorus/calcium quotient is between 2 and 0.3. Almonds possess an acceptable quotient (0.464), while milk (1.27) is ideal. Eggs (0.26) and meat (0.05) deviate significantly from the optimal relationship. This is because these foods contain much more phosphorus than calcium (twenty times in meat), which impedes absorption.
It is well-known that a high phosphorus diet, such as one that is meat-based, diminishes the intestinal absorption of calcium. Additionally, copious quantities of proteins cause calcium loss through the urine.
The almond’s calcium/phosphorus quotient is much closer to that of milk than meat. This fact and its high calcium content explain the remineralizing qualities of this oil-bearing nut.
The same is valid with the calcium/magnesium quotient, whose optimal point is between 0.5 and 2. The almond, with 0.864, is one of the most balanced foods in terms of these two minerals.
Almond Health Benefits
In the southeastern segment of the Iberian Peninsula, where the best almonds in Europe are raised, a traditional Mediterranean farm lunch consists of a handful of almonds, whole bread, and an apple. This is an example of the tremendous nutritional value of this seed, which surpasses meat in caloric value, and is equal to or greater in protein content.
TRACE ELEMENTS: Like other nuts, almonds are extraordinarily rich in copper, zinc, and manganese, trace elements that carry out essential corporal functions.
Because of this splendid composition and easy digestion, assuming that they are well chewed, the almond is the most valued and valuable oil-bearing nut, particularly in the following cases:
- Nervous system conditions, stress, depression, and mental or physical fatigue: The appropriate balance among calcium, magnesium, and potassium ions maintain muscle tone and prevents nervous irritability. A lack of calcium in the blood produces nervousness.
The almond’s proportion of these minerals is adequate to achieve the functions of the nervous system. In addition, its richness in phosphorus and polyunsaturated fatty acids (such as linolenic acid) encourages the production of phospholipids, essential ingredients of neurons and cellular membranes.
Eating almonds regularly helps strengthen the nerves, tone the muscles, and helps overcome stress, depression, and fatigue. Athletes and others involved in strenuous physical labor will find food that provides significant energy and is refreshing and healthful in almonds.
- High cholesterol: Contrary to what many believe, a food so rich in fat as the almond not only does not raise cholesterol but lowers it. The same is true of walnuts. This is due to the almond’s balanced fatty acids composition and its richness in vitamin E with its intense antioxidant action.
An investigation by the California Health Research and Studies Center studied the effect of the consumption of 100 g of almonds daily on the cholesterol level. In only three weeks, the average cholesterol level of the participants dropped from 235 mg/dl to 215 mg/dl. This reduction in cholesterol was in the harmful (LDL), while the beneficial (HDL) cholesterol was not affected, thus producing an ideal effect.
- Cardiac disease and arteriosclerosis: Calcium is involved in each heartbeat and controlling arterial pressure. The almond’s richness in calcium and vitamin E content has a very beneficial effect on cardiovascular health. Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant that inhibits the formation of arteriosclerosis plaque in the arteries.
- Bone disorders: Almonds contain prominent levels of the minerals that form the skeleton (phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium). Additionally, almonds are alkalizing, which fosters calcium retention. On the other hand, acidifying foods such as meat increase calcium loss through the urine. All of this makes almonds an ideal food for those who have osteoporosis or bone demineralizing.
- Diabetes: because of their small carbohydrate content and the quality of their proteins and fats, people with diabetes tolerate almonds very well.
- Pregnant and lactating women: Almonds are ideal for pregnant women because of their nutritional richness, particularly their content of minerals essential for fetal development. Almonds are proven to increase milk secretion in nursing mothers.
Almond milk is a very nutritious and delicately flavored beverage whose richness in proteins and minerals is comparable to cow’s milk. It may be utilized as a dietary supplement for more significant nutritional needs or as a substitute for cow’s milk. Almond milk is recommended in the following cases:
- Intolerance to cow’s milk is generally caused by lactose intolerance (milk sugar).
- Infantile eczema and diarrhea: Cow’s milk is responsible for many cases of adolescent allergies manifested by eczema and skin rashes. Dr. Bircher-Benner, a classic of the German school of natural medicine, popularized a treatment based on almond milk for infants and children with cutaneous and atopic allergies, with excellent results.
In the same manner, severe infantile diarrhea, intestinal disorders, flatulence, and other digestive ailments, respond well to almond milk in place of cow’s milk. The only drawback to almond milk for children is that, while it contains sufficient proteins, fats, and sugars, it has less calcium than cow or mother’s milk. Because of this, it cannot be used exclusively in the infant diet but as a treatment for a limited time.
- Excess blood cholesterol – Almond milk contains no cholesterol and is rich in unsaturated fatty acids; because of this, it is particularly beneficial in cases of hyperlipemia (excess fat in the blood) and whenever a low-cholesterol diet is required.
- Infancy and growth periods – Almond milk is a refreshing drink, rich in calories and nutrients, and much more appropriate for children than most soft drinks they usually drink. It is perfect for nervous children or those with concentration problems since its richness in linolenic acid and phosphorus fosters mental performance.
- The elderly – The elderly who have difficulty chewing almonds may drink all the almond milk they wish.
- Lactating mothers – Almond milk is recommended for lactating mothers because it increases milk production.
Almond milk is a nutritious and refreshing drink, and it is highly recommended for children during different periods of growth. It is easy to make by dissolving a couple of spoons of almond cream in a glass of water.
Comparison of Almond Milk and Cow’s Milk (per one hundred grams of beverage)
|Almond Milk||Cow’s Milk|
The Always Tender Almond
Dried almonds are easier to chew and digest if soaked overnight. The almonds will be tender by the following day, and after removing the skin that covers them, they give the sensation of having been freshly picked from the tree. It is also easier to peel dried almonds by dipping them in boiling water (blanching). Peeled almonds are easier to digest.
Warning: Bitter Almonds
Bitter almonds are a variant of sweet almonds, but with the difference that they contain a cyanogenetic glucoside, amygdalin. Their appearance is identical to sweet almonds. The action of emulsin produces hydrocyanic acid, an enzyme found in the almond itself, on the amygdalin. Besides hydrocyanic acid, this chemical reaction has an essence of benzoic aldehyde that gives bitter almonds their typical odor. Hydrocyanic acid sedates the nerves and paralyzes respiration. Eating ten bitter almonds can be fatal to an adult.
How to use and Prepare Almonds
- RAW – Almonds that are freshly picked from the tree and shelled can be consumed just as they are. Fresh almonds are more digestible than dried almonds.
- DRIED – Sometimes, the moisture content is reduced after being picked, making them hard. They can be eaten raw, very well chewed, or lightly toasted. In this case, they lose some of their vitamins, but they are easier to chew and digest.
- ALMOND MILK – This is usually prepared by adding water to almond cream, a light brown paste prepared industrially of almonds and sugar (preferably fructose). It can also be made at home. It is drunk in place of cow’s milk.
- MARZIPAN – This is a homogenous mixture of ground almond and sugar. Toledo, Spain, is world-famous for its exquisite marzipan.
- TURRÓN (Nougat) – This is prepared from almonds and honey. It may be hard or soft, depending on whether the almonds are ground or whole. The Turrones made in Alicante, Spain, are famous.
George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. “Encyclopedia of Foods and Their Healing Power.” George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. Encyclopedia of Foods, and Their Healing Power. Trans. Annette Melgosa. Vol. 2. Chai Wan: Editorial Safeliz, 2005. 48, 49, 50, 51. Print. [almond health benefits]