Almonds are honored as being the most popular nut in the United States. Interestingly, the almond is not actually a nut at all though. It is actually a seed, belonging to the same botanical family as apricots and peaches. First being introduced to the Western world in the early 1900s, almond consumption has exploded in the United States over the last several decades. Specifically, health enthusiasts and dieters appreciate the wide range of health benefits that almonds offer in such a small package. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, demand for almonds in the United States has increased by 220 percent since 2005. This nutritious nut-like food has been studied for its benefits in a variety of chronic disease states such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Additionally, almonds seem to play a crucial role in weight management. Take a look below for a more detailed look at the protective effects of almonds.
Protects Against Cardiovascular Disease
Almonds are most widely known in the nutrition world for their astounding heart health promoting qualities. Their unique nutrient profile, including plant-based protein, fiber, monounsaturated fat, Vitamin E and magnesium contribute to their heart protective qualities. A 1 ounce serving of almonds, approximately 23 almonds, provides 14 grams of fat. Two-thirds of this fat is from monounsaturated fat sources, which are some of the foundational elements of a heart healthy diet. Numerous studies have ascertained that those individuals who consume almonds regularly have reduced risk of death from heart disease by up to 37%, or 8.3% for each weekly serving. This is linked to the capability of almonds to reduce LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels. Additionally, almonds supply 6% of the Daily Value of potassium which is an essential mineral for heart health. Specifically, potassium is linked to lower blood pressure levels caused by the widening effect it has on blood vessels. Finally, almonds supply 20% of the Daily Value of magnesium which is also linked to heart health. A majority of adults in the United States do not meet the requirement of magnesium in their diets and therefore could benefit from adding almonds into their diet.
Prevents and Manages Diabetes
Almonds also have several qualities that contribute to their ability to control and prevent diabetes. Firstly, ounce for ounce, almonds contain more fiber than any other tree nut. In a one ounce serving, they supply 4 grams of fiber. Fiber is an important blood sugar-stabilizing dietary component. This is an extremely valuable characteristic in a food item for those struggling with diabetes. Next, almonds are naturally low in sugar and high in fat and protein. They contain 14 grams of fat and 6 grams of protein per ounce. This composition also contributes to the stabilization of blood sugar, allowing for almonds to be considered a low glycemic food. Interestingly, studies have found that individuals who consume almonds in combination with a high carbohydrate meal have a reduced glycemic index impact as compared to those who do not consume almonds with the meal. This ability of almonds to lower the detrimental effects of carbohydrates, specifically in the diabetic population, is extremely valuable.
Weight Loss and Management
Almonds play a unique role in weight management. On one hand, they are an extremely calorie dense food which would suggest that they are bad for weight control. However, they are high in healthy fats and protein which allow them to provide a feeling of satiety to those who consume them. One study found that substituting almonds for high carbohydrate alternative snacks reduced waist circumference, abdominal fat, and fat on the legs in study participants. Additionally, another study found that participants who ate nuts twice weekly were 31% less likely to gain weight. This can likely be attributed to the fact that those who eat nuts are able to keep hunger at bay and therefore will not overindulge during mealtimes. Overall, evidence suggests almonds can play a key role in weight control.
Gluten Free Diets
Almonds are also naturally gluten free making them very popular among those who choose to eliminate gluten from their diets. Furthermore, almonds contain many essential nutrients that those who do not eat gluten tend to lack. Generally speaking, gluten free diets can be low in iron, fiber, B vitamins, and protein and high in saturated fats and sugar. The unique composition of nutrients in almonds make them a perfect snack for someone following a gluten free diet because they provide many of the nutrients this diet lacks while not providing those the the diet is already too high in.
Almonds have been studied extensively for their ability to reduce the risk of certain cancers. Their ability to fight cancer is a result of their high Vitamin E content. One ounce of almonds provides 35% of the Daily Value of Vitamin E. Vitamin E is a powerful agent in preventing cancer because it acts as a potent antioxidant. Specifically, Vitamin E maintains the integrity of cell walls and prevents oxidative damage.
Almond popularity has exploded in recent years in the United States – and for good reason. Almonds supply a wide range of protection against many of the most common chronic diseases that plague the United States. From fighting cardiovascular disease to reducing cancer risk, the specialized combination of nutrients found in almonds is one that cannot be found in many other places. Almonds are a great healthy snack option to help spice up the old routine.
- LiveScience.com. Almonds: Nutrition & Health Benefits. 2016. Available at: http://www.livescience.com/51627-almonds-nutrition.html. Accessed February 8, 2016.
- Joe Leech D. 9 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Almonds. Authority Nutrition. 2015. Available at: http://authoritynutrition.com/9-proven-benefits-of-almonds/. Accessed February 8, 2016.