The body needs adequate amounts of fat in the diet in order to properly absorb “fat-soluble” nutrients, like vitamins A and D. Almonds are also considered one of the only nuts that help alkalize the digestive tract, reducing acid buildup and balancing the body’s pH. A healthy pH levelis crucial for proper digestion, immunity and disease prevention. Additionally, the nutrients present in almonds may help regulate digestive enzymes that are involved in nutrient extraction, cholesterol synthesis and bile acid production.
7. Increase Digestive Health
In addition to healthy fats and alkaline-forming molecules, almonds (especially the skin of almonds) contain probiotic components that help with digestion, detoxification and healthy bacterial growth within the gut flora — a key to actually utilizing nutrients from food and preventing nutrient deficiencies.
Studies suggest that almonds and almond skins may lead to an improvement in the “intestinal microbiota profile,” meaning the intestine’s bacterial activities improve and promote numerous health benefits due to the presence of prebiotic properties, the precursors for probiotics.
A 2014 study by the Institute of Food Science & Technology in China found that when women ate a daily dose of 56 grams of almonds over an eight-week period, significant increases in the populations of healthy bacteria called Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus were observed. (7)
8. Can Help Fight Cancer and Inflammation
Almonds contain gamma-tocopherol, a type of vitamin E that acts as a powerful antioxidant, fighting free radical damage and oxidative stress that are linked to cancer. Many studies find a link between nut consumption and cancer prevention, including a reduced risk for colon, prostate and breast cancers. (8)
9. Help Maintain Dental and Bone Health
Almonds are a good source of trace minerals, including magnesium and phosphorus, which is a crucial nutrient for building and maintaining strong teeth and bones. Almonds nutrition benefits include the ability to help prevent tooth decay, fight cavities, lower the risk for bone fractures and fight osteoporosis.
Almonds History and Interesting Facts
Would you believe that today the almond industry is estimated at $4.3 billion annually and over 2 billion pounds of almonds are produced worldwide each year? Unlike many other nuts and fruits, the U.S. — specifically California, which is actually the only state to produce almonds commercially — is the largest producer of almonds, producing about 80 percent of the world’s almonds.
Almonds might be growing in popularity every year as research reveals more about almonds nutrition benefits, but almond consumption actually goes back thousands of years to around 4,000 B.C. The almond tree species is native to the Middle East and South Asia. A tall tree with pink and white flowers, it grows in warm and dry climates, which is why it spread through the Mediterranean region and became a staple in the diet there.
Wild almonds are actually bitter and naturally contain toxic substances like deadly cyanide, so humans had to first find a certain type of “sweet” almond among the many different almond tree species before domesticating them. In India and Pakistan, almonds have been a mainstream part of the diet for centuries, where they’re called badam. Almonds were first spread by humans in ancient times along the shores of the Mediterranean into northern Africa, Asia and southern Europe, eventually making their way to the U.S. Along the way, the word “almond” was given to the nut, which comes from the old French word almande.
Historically, almonds have meant many things to various cultures. Hebrew literature from 2,000 B.C. mentions almonds, as does early literature from Turkey, Romania and the Baltic peninsula. The Bible also makes numerous references to almonds, describing them as an object of value and a symbol of hope, for example, in Genesis 43:11.
King Tut also took several handfuls of almonds to his grave dating back to 1352 B.C., and years later almond trees were believed to grow near trade routes like the famous Silk Road that connected central China with the Mediterranean.
How to Buy and Use Almonds
Not all almonds are created equal — you definitely want to avoid almonds and any nuts coated in sugar, hydrogenated oils and tons of sodium. Many nuts undergo processing that lower the nut’s health benefits. For example, by heating nuts to very high temperatures, some of their antioxidants can be destroyed.
One downside of consuming almonds produced in the U.S. is that United States law demands that all raw almonds be pasteurized or irradiated before being sold to consumers. According to the Department of Agriculture (USDA), there are several mandatory pasteurization treatment processes to reduce the level of potential contamination in almonds “without diminishing the product’s quality, nutritional value or sensory qualities (taste and crunch).” (9) These include: oil roasting, dry roasting and blanching, and steam processing.
Almonds contain natural fatty acids and oils that are sensitive to high heat, so when they’re highly processed it’s possible to turn these oils “rancid.” For example, when almonds are roasted, they’re usually soaked in hydrogenated or GMO oils, a fat that’s harmful and promotes heart disease.
As a rule of thumb, the less processing done to almonds the better. Preshelled and roasted almonds are likely less beneficial than raw almonds still found in their natural casing.
One step that can actually increase the nutrient content of almonds is soaking and sprouting them. Soaking and sprouting almonds removes some of their naturally occurring antinutrients that block the body from absorbing some minerals. I like to soak mine overnight for 12–24 hours in a big bowl, covering them with water and rinsing them the next morning.
Almonds come in two varieties: sweet and bitter. Sweet almonds are used in many recipes in Asia, the U.S. and the Mediterranean. One popular use in Italy is to crush almonds into marzipan, which is used as a sweet ingredient in baked goods. They’re also added to stir fries, used to make almond oil for cooking and produce almond extract that makes a good stand-in for vanilla extrac