Almonds are a tree nut that feature in both the Asian and Mediterranean diets. They are a delicious source of at least 31 antioxidant polyphenols, and also supply protein, fibre and cholesterol-lowering plant sterols. Almond oil also consists of up to 75% oleic acid – the same type of monounsaturated fat that gives olive oil its many health benefits.
Almonds health benefits
Research published in the British Medical Journal suggests that a daily meal of seven ingredients, which include a handful (68g) of almonds (plus dark chocolate, fruit, vegetables, garlic, wine and a twice weekly intake of fish) twice a week, could cut the risk of cardiovascular disease by more than 75%. The scientists predicted that regular intakes of these ingredients, including almonds, could increase average life expectancy by six and a half years for men, and five years for women.
Overall, people who eat the most nuts – including almonds – tend to live two to three years longer than those who eat the least. Much of this benefit comes from their antioxidant polyphenols.
Almond nutrition facts
Almonds provide as much as 287mg polyphenols per 100g, including catechins, kaempferol, naringenin and quercetin. The thin green or brown skin which surrounds each almond seed contains 10 times more polyphenols than the white flesh – so where possible eat the kernels with their skins intact.
Almonds and cholesterol
The high level of antioxidants obtained by eating almonds prevents oxidation of circulating LDL-cholesterol so it is more readily carried back to the liver for processing. Results from 5 trials show that eating almonds in amounts ranging from 25g to 168g per day can significantly lower total cholesterol (by -6.95 mg/dL or -0.18 mmol/L).
Some studies show that eating a handful of almonds per day (about 23 kernels) can lower ‘bad’ LDL-cholesterol by 5%, while a low dose of 10 grams of almonds per day, eaten before breakfast, can increase ‘good’ HDL-cholesterol by as much as 16% within 12 weeks.
In people on long-term statin therapy to lower a raised cholesterol level, the simple addition of eating 100 grams almonds per day reduced LDL-cholesterol by 4.9% within just 4 weeks.
Almond oil has similar cholesterol-lowering benefits due to the plant sterols it contains.
Almonds and weight loss
Almonds are relatively high in calories, providing around 612 kcals per 100g. As a result, many people who want to lose weight avoid eating nuts, yet their consumption does not appear to cause a net gain in body weight for several reasons. Almonds have a high protein content, of just over 20%, and a high fibre content (7.4g per 100g) so they fill you up and curb your appetite.
Almonds also contain polyphenols that can activate proteins called SIRTs which help to suppress fat storage and boost fat metabolism. Several studies show that people who eat almonds regularly tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI), a lower waist circumference and less visceral fat, than those who eat the least.
In one study, people who added nuts such as almonds to a Mediterranean style diet had a waist circumference that was, on average, 5cm less after one year, than those who did not eat nuts.
Almonds and the post-lunch dip
There is a natural tendency to feel sleeping after eating a heavy lunch, as blood is diverted away from the brain to aid food digestion. Known as the post-lunch dip, it can cause decreased alertness, memory and vigilance especially after eating a high carbohydrate meal. These effects can be reduced by eating nuts, and researchers have found that eating almonds during the midday meal can reduce the post-lunch dip in memory.
Almonds and blood pressure
When 86 healthy adults followed a low-calorie diet for 12 weeks, those whose diet was enriched with almonds lost more body weight and body fat than those not eating almonds. Their diastolic blood pressure also fell significantly more. The researchers concluded that moderate almond consumption during weight loss diets could increase loss of body fat and help to reduce metabolic disease risk in obesity.
Almonds and diabetes
Initial studies suggest that almonds can improve glucose control, reduce insulin resistance, and reduce the rise in blood glucose levels that occur after eating carbohydrate foods. This suggests that almonds may help to reduce the glycaemic impact of the carbs with which they are eaten. In one study, regularly eating a single serving of 28g almonds on five days a week, for 12 week, was associated with a 4% reduction in haemoglobin A1c in people with type 2 diabetes.
How to add almonds to your diet
Have a handful of unsalted, raw or roasted almonds (including skins) as a healthy snack. Sprinkle almonds over cereals, desserts, yogurt and salads.
Use nut oils in salad dressings, and drink nut milks (available in health food stores).
Almond butters make a fabulous alternative to peanut butter or jam. And, of course, almonds in dark chocolate are simple divine.
The good news is that roasting and cooking do not deplete the polyphenol content of almonds. In fact, because of the loss of water, roasted almonds contain around twice as many antioxidant polyphenols as raw almonds.
Warm a pan over a medium heat, then add a handful of shelled almonds (still in their skins). Toast gently for a few seconds, shaking the pan as they colour. Take care not to burn them.
Turn out into a shallow dish and leave to cool for a healthy snack.
Almond Nut Milk
Soak 45g raw almonds (skins on) in 200ml mineral water over night.
Place all ingredients in a blender and pulse until the nuts are broken up.
Then blend at high-speed for at least a minute until the nuts are completely liquidised.
You can strain the liquid through a fine muslin cloth, using a spatula to help the milk strain through, if you prefer a milk-like texture.
Add to smoothies, or use to make porridge or drinks, or add to soups and curries.
This home-made almond milk will keep in a refrigerator for two days.