Week 14: Almonds
The almond that we think of as a nut is technically the seed of the fruit of the almond tree, a medium-size tree that bears fragrant pink and white flowers. Like its cousins—the peach, cherry and apricot trees—the almond tree bears fruits with stone-like seeds (or pits) within. The seed of the almond fruit is what we refer to as the almond nut.
An ancient food, almonds have been written about in historical texts, including the Bible. Almonds are grown in many of the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea, including Spain, Italy and Portugal, as well as in California. Almond trees were originally brought to California centuries ago when missions were created by the Spanish.
They are one of the most nutritionally dense nuts. To lower your risk of cardiovascular and coronary heart disease, enjoy a handful of nuts or a tablespoon of nut butter at least four times a week.
Almonds are a very good source of vitamin E, manganese, biotin and copper. They are a good source of magnesium, molybdenum, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and phosphorus. In addition, they contain a considerable amount of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.
Reduce Heart Disease Risk: This risk reduction is due to their cholesterol-lowering effects (in particular, LDL, the bad cholesterol) due to the presence of monounsaturated fats. It may also be partly due to the antioxidant action of the vitamin E found in the almonds. The presence of magnesium and potassium helps to maintain normal blood pressure and heart function.
Protection against Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease: Almonds appear to decrease after-meal rises in blood sugar, which helps protect against diabetes and cardiovascular disease. They also provide antioxidants, which help reduce the cholesterol-damaging effects of free radicals.
Help with Energy Production: Almonds are a very good source of manganese and copper, two trace minerals that help with different enzymes in the body to help keep energy flowing. Riboflavin (vitamin B2) also plays an important role in the body’s energy production.
Selection and Storage:
Almonds that are still in their shells have the longest shelf life. If purchasing these, look for shells that are not split, moldy or stained. If purchasing from the bulk bins, smell the almonds. They should smell sweet and nutty; if their odor is sharp or bitter, they are rancid.
Since almonds have a high fat content, it is important to store them properly in order to protect them from becoming rancid. To prolong their freshness, store shelled almonds in a tightly sealed container in a cool dry place away from exposure to sunlight. Refrigerated almonds will keep for several months, while those stored in the freezer can be kept for up to a year.
Almonds and Oxalates: Almonds are among a small number of foods that contain measurable amounts of oxalates (naturally occurring substances found in plants, animals and human beings). When oxalates become too concentrated in body fluids, they can crystallize and cause health problems. For this reason, individuals with already existing and untreated kidney or gallbladder problems may want to avoid eating almonds.
Allergic Reactions to Tree Nuts (such as almonds): Tree nuts (cashews, almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts and chestnuts) are one of the eight food types that are considered to be major food allergens in the U.S. and require identification on food labels. Food allergy symptoms may sometimes be immediate and specific, or more generalized and delayed.