An Elegy to Almonds

Unripe almond on tree

Oh almonds, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

As a massage therapist, I often need to find something quick and easy to munch on between clients. Sometimes there’s no time to heat up soup, or even fix a quick sandwich. Instead of grabbing some chips, or even a “healthy” nutrition bar, I try to have some raw almonds on hand (preferably organic).

I always knew almonds were good guys, but I’d forgotten some of the benefits until recently. Several studies have shown that almonds have the potential to:

  • Reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Help with age-related short-term memory
  • Lower “bad” cholesterol and raise “good” cholesterol
  • Protect against Type 2 diabetes
  • Reduce the risk of heart disease and sudden heart attacks
  • Reduce the glycemic index of meals

Almond Mini-FAQ

  • Almond flour’s gluten-free and can be used in place of wheat flour in a lot of recipes (you can’t use it for regular breads because it can’t be kneaded, but it’s fantastic for quick breads and muffins). Great for low-carbers and those with wheat sensitivities. Tip: When you use almonds for baking, add some extra eggs to make everything stick together.
  • In a controlled study, 73 grams (just 2.5 ounces) of almonds daily reduced LDL cholesterol (that’s the bad kind) by up to 9.4%. It also increased HDLs (the good kind of cholesterol) by 4.6% and reduced the LDL:HDL ratio by 12%. The LDL:HDL ratio is considered more important than the total cholesterol count.
  • An ounce of almonds contains 6 grams of protein, 210 milligrams of potassium, and 3 grams of fiber. They’re also high in manganese, magnesium, riboflavin and vitamin E, B2, and copper. At less than 170 calories an ounce, almonds are one of the most nutritionally-dense foods.
  • In Ayurveda, almonds are thought to benefit the brain and nervous system.
  • Do you stay away from almonds because of the fat content? Well, 90% of the fat in almonds is monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Monounsaturated fat is the same good stuff that’s in olive oil.
  • Get it out of your head that nuts will make you gain weight! A Spanish study followed 8,865 adults over 28 months. Those who ate nuts at least twice a week were 31% less likely to gain weight than those who never or almost never ate nuts.
  • Are you doing the low carb thing? An ounce of almonds contains 2.3 grams of net carbs (that’s what you get after subtracting the fiber grams from the total carb count), and they’re considered a healthy low carb snack.
  • Oh, and almonds aren’t actually nuts – they’re drupes. Nope, I’d never heard of drupes either. From Wikipedia: They’re fruits “in which an outer fleshy part (exocarp, or skin; and mesocarp, or flesh) surrounds a shell (the pit or stone) of hardened endocarp with a seed inside.” Some other drupes are coffee beans, mangos, pistachios, apricots, nectarines, peaches, cherries and plums. Aren’t you glad you know that?

Don’t Forget the Pine Nuts
Pine nuts are good too. Yum! But expensive, so they’re a rare treat. I’ve always considered pine nuts kind of a guilty pleasure, and I was surprised to find that they’re almost in the same class as almonds when it comes to packing a nutritional punch.

So skip the chips and go nuts!

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