Almonds are a tiny tree nut popular for their tasty flavor and high nutritional content. They make great snacks and are often paired with dark chocolate as a treat. The health benefits of almonds are vast, including fortified heart health and a reduced risk of cancer.
Almonds can easily be incorporated into a daily food routine by adding them to cereal or to a shake or smoothie, eating them raw, or using almond products. Almonds are so popular and nutritionally beneficial that they are used to produce almond oil, almond butter, and almond milk. Almond products offer health benefits and an alternative for people with certain dietary restrictions such as lactose intolerance and milk or peanut allergies.
Health Benefits of Almonds
Almonds have been studied for years to determine just what health benefits these powerful tree nuts may offer. So far, the list of almond health benefits includes:
- Blood sugar regulation
- Reduced hypertension
- Reduced inflammation
- Lowered cholesterol
- Reduced risk of breast cancer
Almonds are a tiny, but potent food that packs a powerful nutritional punch. Their health benefits can be attributed to all the vitamins and minerals they offer.
- Fiber: aids in digestive health and provides a feeling of fullness, which helps with appetite control and weight management
- Protein: used to build, repair, and maintain muscle tissue and healthy bones; also creates a feeling of fullness
- Healthy fat: supports heart health and reduces bad cholesterol
- Vitamin E: a powerful antioxidant that rids the body of dangerous cells before they can cause damage like cancer development
- Manganese: important for hormone regulation, brain function, and the formation of bones and tissue
- Magnesium: regulates blood sugar and blood pressure; supports healthy nerve and muscle function
- Copper: aids in iron absorption and supports immune health
- B2: helps the body maintain energy by breaking down proteins, fats, and carbohydrates
- Phosphorus: works alongside calcium to build healthy bones and teeth
- Antioxidants: eliminate dangerous cells from the body that cause damage like aging and life-threatening diseases like cancer
Types of Almonds
Almonds come in a variety of forms including raw, organic, and roasted. But are all almonds created equal? Is any of the nutritional value lost as almonds are processed? Below is the breakdown of different types of almonds and their nutritional value.
Raw almonds may sound like all-natural almonds or organic almonds, straight from the tree to the grocery store. But the truth is that by the time almost all almonds in the U.S. have made it to the store for purchasing, they have undergone pasteurization. Pasteurization of almonds happens in one of two forms. Either heat is used to steam and sanitize the nuts or the nuts are fumigated. Nutritionally pasteurization via steam leaves the key almond nutrients intact, so pasteurized almonds are still allowed to be labeled as raw almonds.
Organic almonds, or organic raw almonds, are almonds that have not been through the pasteurization process. They are difficult to find in stores because of the strict regulations surrounding almonds and pasteurization and can usually only be found through private growers and farmers markets.
The most noticeable difference between raw almonds and roasted almonds is the taste. Roasted almonds have a salty taste to them that is preferred by some over the plain taste of raw almonds. While the nutritional benefits of raw almonds and roasted almonds remain the same, the digestion is a bit different. Roasted almonds tend to be digested more easily due to their crunchier, less rigid texture. Raw almonds, on the other hand, are more difficult for the digestive system to break down. So it is possible that roasted almonds offer the body more nutrients for absorption than raw almonds do. One thing to watch out for if opting for roasted almonds is sodium. Sometimes roasted almonds are salted, which increases the sodium content.
Almond oil is oil that has been extracted from almonds. There are two types of almond oil: refined and unrefined.
Refined Almond Oil
Think of refined almond oil as processed almond oil. Chemicals and processing are used during the extraction of refined almond oil, so some of the nutritional value is lost. This process makes unrefined almond oil the better option when it comes to nutrient-rich oil.
Unrefined Almond Oil
Unrefined almond oil is also extracted from almonds, but it is done so without the use of chemicals. Unrefined almond oil contains much of the same nutritional value as whole almonds, including vitamins and healthy fats. Unrefined almond oil is also high in antioxidants and, according to a study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, offers several health benefits including:
- Reduced risk of cancer
- Digestive health including relief for IBS sufferers
- Immune health
- Reduced inflammation
- Increased good cholesterol
- Relief for dry skin
- Improved complexion and skin tone
Almond oil is widely available and may be purchased at most pharmacies and health stores. It can be added to your diet through shakes and smoothies or can be applied topically to the skin and hair.
Almond oil is only one example of the array of almond products available. Almonds are so popular and widely available in the U.S. that they have been used to make multiple products including almond butter and almond milk.
Almond butter is a spread, or paste, that is a popular alternative to peanut butter, especially for those with a peanut allergy. It is made by grinding or blending almonds until they form the butter.
Like peanut butter, almond butter is rich in protein. It also includes the healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals that almonds are known for. Almond butter can be made at home or can be purchased at the store. If purchasing, check the label for any added ingredients such as sodium, sugar, and oils to make sure the nutritional value of the almond butter hasn’t been compromised. If a peanut allergy is a concern, then it’s also important to check the label to make sure the almond butter was not produced using any machines that also manufacture peanut butter or come in contact with peanuts. Almond butter can be used to make sandwiches, spread on crackers, or added to a smoothie or shake for extra nutrition.
Almond milk is often used as a substitute for regular milk, especially by vegans and those who are lactose-intolerant or allergic to milk. Almond milk is made by crushing or grinding up almonds and mixing them with water. The almond skin, or pulp, is then strained out. The nutritional content of almond milk varies depending on how many almonds were used to make the almond milk. The higher the almond count, the more nutritional the milk.
Because the almonds are mixed with water during the process of making the milk, almond milk does not carry the same nutrient-rich health benefits as whole almonds or unrefined almond oil do. Producers of almond milk often add ingredients such as vitamin D and calcium to make it a more comparable substitute for regular dairy milk.