The Health Benefits of Almonds
An article by Chocolaterie Wanders & Dietitian Alison Sturm
Almonds are a member of the stone fruit family, which also includes peaches, plums and nectarines. While largely a product of California today, almonds originated millions of years ago from central and southwest Asia. According to The Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), more than half of the almonds consumed in our country are ingredients in manufactured goods such as marzipan, confections, chocolates, cereals, snacks and ice cream. Another quarter of the almonds purchased are used for in-home consumption or for baking purposes, and the last quarter are used by food service outlets such as restaurants or bakeries.
According to the USDA’s 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans report, among the nutrients found to be lacking in the American diet are vitamin E and magnesium. Almonds are one of the greatest sources of both of these nutrients, providing nearly half of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of vitamin E and almost a quarter of the RDA of magnesium in just a one ounce serving. They are also a source of dietary fiber with 3.3 grams per ounce (RDA is 26 g), and calcium with 70 milligrams per ounce (RDA 1200 mg).
While the health benefits of almonds are many, with more being discovered by researchers each day, there are a few significant benefits that have stood out. Backed by significant research, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a qualified health claim for nuts in 2003 which states, "Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, such as almonds, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease."
Most studies suggest that the cardioprotective benefit of almonds is due mostly to their content of monounsaturated fats. In one study, it was found that men and women who ate about a handful of raw whole unblanched almonds each day lowered their LDL, or “bad”, cholesterol by 4.4 percent from baseline, and those who ate about two handfuls a day saw a decrease of more than double, or 9.4 percent. Researchers attributed these results to the high content of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat and lack of starch in the almonds, the only differences between the control food in the study. Interestingly, neither those participants who ate one handful or two per day for the study period gained weight during that time.
Almonds contain numerous other components that may affect other health conditions such as cancer and diabetes. Research has found compounds, called flavonoids, including catechins, flavonols, flavanones, and aglycones in the skin of almonds. It is believed that these compounds, also found in tea, dark chocolate, colorful fruits and vegetables and wine, give almonds antioxidant properties, protecting the body’s cells from damage.
Studies have shown us that the flavonoids found in almonds prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, which can make the cholesterol more likely to clog arteries. While it is clear that almonds contain numerous flavonoids, and their health benefits look promising, it is less clear how efficiently they are absorbed and what their exact effects in the body are. Further research has shown us that the compounds in almonds may also play a role in the treatment and prevention of diseases such as cancer and diabetes, and additional studies are ongoing to define that role.
High in heart-healthy fat, almonds can promote good health when eaten as part of a balanced diet, including one that is rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, lean meats, low fat dairy products, whole grains and low in saturated fats. While almonds are, ounce for ounce, very nutrient dense, they are also high in calories and fat, and should be consumed in moderation. If you do consume almonds or products containing almonds, consider cutting back or substituting them for non-nutrient dense foods such as snack foods. One ounce, or about a handful per day is all that is needed to fulfill the recommended daily intake of almonds.
Chocolaterie Wanders is proud to offer you a variety of products that carry the benefits of almonds in them. We make our own marzipan and incorporate it into recipes, creating vibrant tasting confections that will make you remember the taste of the old world.
Sources: A) Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook, FTS 316, May 2005.
B) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005. Washington (DC): U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture; 2005.
C) Appendix B: Food Sources of Selected Nutrients, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 17. Available at: www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2005/document/html/appendixB.htm
D) Brown, D. FDA considers health claim for nuts. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2003; 103: 426.
E) Jenkins et al. Dose Response of Almonds on Coronary Heart Disease Risk Factors: Blood Lipids, Oxidized Low-Density Lipoproteins, Lipoprotein(a), Homocysteine, and Pulmonary Nitric Oxide. Circulation. 2002; 106: 1327-1332.
F) Chen, C, Milbury, P, Lapsley, K, and Blumberg, J. Flavonoids from Almond Skins are Bioavailable and Act Synergistically with Vitamins C and E to Enhance Hamster and Human LDL Resistance to Oxidation. Journal of Nutrition. 2005; 135: 1366-1377.
G) Chen, C, Lapsley, K, Blumberg, J. A nutrition and health perspective on almonds. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 2006; 86(14):2245-2250.
H) Josse, A, Kendall, C, Augustin, L, Ellis, P, and Jenkins, D. Almonds and postprandial glycemia—a dose-response study. Metabolism. 2007; 56: 400-404.
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