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Almonds are an increasingly popular, healthy snack and truly a nutritional powerhouse in a tiny package.
When you take a closer look at the nutritional breakdown of almonds, it’s not hard to see why.
These nuts (actually seeds, but that’s a classification for you) are not only delicious and versatile in the form of whole nuts, sliced almonds, almond flour or milk, they also contain a huge range of vital nutrients, vitamins and minerals that help our body function at its peak.
Not only do the nutrients in almonds help your body fight disease and stay healthy, these nifty nuts may actually increase your lifespan.
Now there’s just another good reason to add to the long list of why you should grab a handful of almonds for an afternoon snack.
Health Benefits of Almonds
Help with Weight Control
Many people are aware that almonds are a rich source of healthy fats, so how does that match up with almonds helping us to lose weight and decrease our body fat?
Nuts, such as almonds, are actually the perfect food to help us lose weight, when eaten in moderation of course.
This is because almonds contain a unique and powerful combination of nutrients that give the body what it needs, while keeping you feeling full and energized when you feel you might give in to a naughtier treat.
The healthy fat, fiber and protein in almonds help to make them a truly satisfying snack, because they help you feel full on the inside, while the delicious taste and mouth feel of the healthy fats helps to quench your cravings for unhealthy foods.
It’s true that nuts are high in calories, and you need to reduce your total calories to lose weight, but incorporating a small serve of almonds into your daily calorie allowance can actually give you an ‘edge’ when it comes to shedding extra pounds.
In fact, a WebMD study showed that participants on a calorie reduced weight loss diet who snacked on almonds lost 62% more total weight and 56% more body fat than those who snacked on complex carbohydrates (whole grain foods).
That’s a huge win in the weight loss world, so put some almonds into your weight loss plan.
Keep Heart Healthy
Those healthy fats in almonds don’t just make these nuts more filling and delicious, they also perform the vital function of keeping our heart and blood healthy, and reducing our risk of heart disease and heart attacks.
We can attribute this wonderful quality of almonds down to their high levels of healthy unsaturated fat which helps to lower the levels of the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol in our blood.
Nuts also help to reduce blood clots, which can cause heart attacks, and can strengthen the arteries, decreasing the risk of atherosclerosis.
Unsaturated fat isn’t the only heart healthy component in almonds.
The fiber content also helps to ‘mop up’ some of the LDL cholesterol in our blood stream, and almonds naturally contain vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps to repair and prevent damage to the cardiovascular system.
Nuts are also a source of plant sterols – powerful, natural plant compounds that help to reduce cholesterol.
The minerals magnesium and potassium in this nutrient rich nut also contribute to the almond’s effects, which act as natural blood pressure regulators for an all round healthy heart.
Antioxidants sound great, and almonds are full of them, but what do they really do?
Antioxidants counteract the effect of free radicals.
Free radicals are compounds that wreak havoc in the body, causing oxidative stress damage to the molecules in cells and contribute to aging and cancer.
So it’s important to include plenty of antioxidants in the diet, and a rich source of antioxidants is the brown skin on almonds.
For this reason, it’s always best to eat the ‘whole nut’ of the almond and not to choose the blanched variety that has the skin removed.
A study by Journal of Nutrition has shown the amazing effects of the antioxidants in almonds.
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When 60 male smokers were given three ounces (84g) of almonds over a four week period, it was found that oxidative stress biomarkers decreased by 23-34% during that time.
The antioxidants in almonds have also been shown to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease which oxidative stress can also contribute to.
Have Vitamin Variety
Along with all the other nutrients, almonds are also packed with vitamins that are essential for our body’s functioning.
While most people usually only get half their recommended daily intake of vitamin E, a ¼ cup of almonds provides 32% of your daily intake in one little snack, massively boosting your levels of this essential vitamin, which also doubles as an antioxidant.
As we mentioned above, vitamin E helps to maintain a healthy heart and blood and as an antioxidant, helps to heal damage that occurs to the body’s cells.
Almonds also contain B group vitamins, an important collection of vitamins including vitamin B1, B2 & B3 (also known as thiamin, riboflavin and niacin respectively) as well as B6 and folate.
The main function of the B group vitamins in almonds is to help us create and harness energy that we get from our food.
This energy boosting function is also supported by the minerals copper and manganese that are found alongside the B vitamins in almonds.
A good intake of B vitamins means better energy levels, giving you a sense of vigor and vitality to get through the long work day.
Help Build Muscles
If you’re looking to supplement you protein intake to build muscle, or you want to fill up on low carbohydrate foods, then almonds are the perfect component in your ideal diet.
These protein rich nuts contain about 6 grams of protein in a 1 ounce serving; making them a great snack to boost your protein intake and leave you feeling satisfied.
An increased intake of protein along with an effective resistance training program can assist in building lean muscle mass, and also subsequently assists in burning fat.
Almonds are also low in carbohydrates while still being high in fiber, which makes them a great addition to the diet if you’re looking to lower your carbs or replace grains.
Almond flour makes a great alternative to wheat flour for a variety of products and can make a very tasty carb, grain and gluten free crumbing for fish or other foods.
An ounce of almonds contains only 5 grams of carbohydrates, 3 of which are fiber, making almonds the ideal addition to a low carbohydrate lifestyle, as they are both healthy and add interest and variety.
Reduce Cancer Risk
Because of the antioxidant content of almonds, these tasty treats are also are major cancer fighters.
Of course there are the antioxidants and vitamin E which directly fight cancer and cell damage.
Then there’s the minerals potassium, copper, chromium, manganese and magnesium which keep us healthy and support the process.
Almonds also have anti-inflammatory action which can help to reduce cancer risk but reducing the damaging effects of inflammation in the body.
A recent study found that consumption of whole almonds reduced the incidence of ‘aberrant crypt foci’ in the bowels, which is basically a complicated name for early beginnings of colon cancer.
The study found that compared to grain based fibers like wheat bran and cellulose, almond meal and almond oil significantly decreased the risk of this early colon cancer damage, showing that regular consumption of almonds and almond products may help to prevent colon cancer.
Gallstones are small stones that are made of cholesterol and bile acids and form in the gallbladder.
For 80% of people who have gallstones, they go completely unnoticed and don’t cause any symptoms whatsoever.
However, if a gallstone gets trapped in a duct within the gallbladder it can cause a 1 to 5 hour stretch of intense pain, and if a gallstone travels to the pancreas, it can cause a serious condition known as acute pancreatitis.
Gallstones can be prevented through healthy eating, exercise and weight management.
It’s important not to go on a ‘crash diet’ as rapid weight loss and very low calorie diets can trigger gallstones.
The good news is that simply eating certain foods including almonds can reduce your risk of gallstones forming and help you avoid any painful or dangerous side effects.
Almonds are a good source of calcium and magnesium which help to prevent gallstones by binding bile acids in the gut.
As you’ll remember, almonds also help to reduce cholesterol levels and have excellent antioxidant effects, which can help to reduce gallstones as well.
Another one of the many health benefits of almonds and perhaps the most important is the ability of nut consumption to add years to your life.
Of course, with all the nutrition and health benefits of nuts we’ve looked at that contribute to a decreased risk or disease and overall improvement to health, this is hardly a surprise.
In a study conducted on the effect of eating nuts, researchers collected data on nearly 120,000 people collected over 30 years.
Their research showed regular nut eaters were slimmer than others, dismissing the commonly held belief that nuts cause weight gain.
But their main concern was the effect of eating nuts on lifespan.
The most obvious benefit was a reduction of 29% in deaths from heart disease, but there was also an 11% reduction in the risk of dying from cancer.
But the study also looked at how likely the participant were to die of any cause over the 30 year period.
They found an increasing correlation, with eating nuts less than once a week linked to a 7% reduction in risk of death, once a week linked to an 11% reduction, two to four times a week to a 13% reduction, five to six times a week to a 15% reduction, and seven or more times a week, to a huge 20% reduction.
This is a great indication of the overall positive effect almond consumption can have on our health, diseases risk and overall life span and ties together the various benefits regular a regular snack of almonds can bring to us.
How to Incorporate Almonds into Your Diet
So you’re convinced of the benefits, but what is the best way to include more almonds in your daily diet?
The studies and research have repeatedly shown that the greatest benefit of almond consumption comes from eating the whole nut, including the thin brown skin on the outside because this skin contains a lot of the antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that are found in almonds.
This means blanched almonds, almond slivers and white almond flour and milk are not going to be as beneficial to the health as the whole nut.
However, these products still contain the healthy fats, fiber and protein of almonds and so can still be a healthy addition to the diet.
But for an easy way to include whole almond nuts in your diet, why not include them as a mid morning or afternoon snack?
The ideal combination of nutrients in an almond helps to give you an energy boost and fills you up so you stay satisfied between meals, which helps prevent snacking on unhealthy foods.
If you don’t snack, almonds can still be easily included in the main meals.
Why not try freshly chopped almonds or your cereal or almond butter on toast for breakfast?
Sliced almonds sprinkled on a salad give a delicious protein kick to a healthy meal.
Or for a gluten free dinner why not try almond flour crumbed chicken or fish with steamed vegetables?
There are so many options for tasty meals and snacks with the versatile almond.
The ideal serving is about one and a half ounces per day, a small handful or about 23 pieces.
This is a great amount to provide a healthy, filling snack, without contributing too many calories to the diet, because remember, almonds are an energy dense food.
However, if you are underweight and would like to build body mass and muscle you could include more almonds and nuts in your diet.
With all these incredible health benefits all wrapped in a tasty package, you wouldn’t want to miss including almonds in your daily diet.