The humble almond has been getting a lot of attention recently – and with good reason.
Almonds are packed with nutrients and they are a fantastic snack that can even help you lose weight (not gain it as most people think).
Technically speaking, the nut that we call the almond is actually the seed from the almond tree (Prunus dulcis).
The nuts are incredibly versatile and can be purchased in their shells or just as the nut.
Almonds have a long history and there are references to them in many ancient texts, including the Bible.
The nuts were particularly important as a staple food for a range of uses, especially as the nuts travelled well.
In the modern day, the vast majority of almonds are grown in California. However, other places also cultivate the plant, including Morocco, Spain and Australia.
As almonds have dramatically increased in popularity in recent years the amount of almonds produced has also increased as supply tries to keep up with the ever-growing demand.
Almonds are a very nutritionally dense food and this is one of the reasons that they are so good for you. You get a surprising amount of different nutrients from almonds, despite their relatively small size.
The following image shows a breakdown of some of the key nutrients in almonds. Many of these nutrients are important for health and some can be challenging to get into the diet.
As you can see, one key nutrient in almonds is vitamin E. A serving of one ounce of almonds (roughly a handful) gives you just over one third of the desired daily intake of vitamin E.
Vitamin E is an important vitamin, although research interest in the vitamin has declined in recent years, probably because of increased interest in other vitamins, minerals and natural compounds.
More research is needed into vitamin E and its potential health benefits before this topic can be answered definitively, but there are still many potential benefits of including the vitamin in your diet.
Additionally, vitamin E is an antioxidant and it may be particularly important to include multiple antioxidants in the diet to get the most health benefits (10).
Potassium is a key nutrient for muscle contraction and nerve transmission, and plays a key role in helping to maintain both heart function and blood pressure.
Almonds represent a significant source of this nutrient combined with a low level of sodium. This makes almonds a good choice for promoting heart health.
Magnesium is also important for heart health because it helps improve blood flow as well as the flow of nutrients and oxygen in the body.
Health Benefits of Almonds
One advantage of this is that nut consumption, in general, seems to be both effective and sustainable at decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease (14).
This outcome may be associated with the fatty acid composition of almonds.
One study examined this potential role by looking at the impact of eating almonds on the profile of fatty acids in blood serum.
The study found that consuming almonds significantly increases the amount of oleic acid and monounsaturated fatty acids in the serum. This is a significant outcome, as both of these types of fatty acid are associated with lower cardiovascular risk (15).
Change in average oleic acid concentration across different study groups. Data from Nishi et al., 2014
A different study on the topic looked at the use of a diet where 20% of the daily energy came from almonds (roughly 2 ounces of almonds per day) versus a diet without almonds across a 16-week period.
In this study, the participants had (16) and there was some interest in finding a diet that reduced the risk of diabetes development.
The authors found that the group receiving almonds as part of their diet had significantly lower levels of LDL cholesterol and in indicators of insulin resistance (17).
The outcomes of that study are further indications that almonds can contribute to improved heart health as well as improved outcomes for patients with prediabetes.
Likewise, a randomized controlled study of 48 participants with high levels of LDL cholesterol found that the group consuming almonds had improved levels of LDL and HDL cholesterol compared to the control group.
The almond group also had reduced levels of abdominal and leg fat, although changes in overall weight were not observed (18).
Additionally, research has indicated that despite common beliefs, replacing some of the carbohydrates in the diet with fats can improve outcomes including lower blood pressure and a decreased prevalence of the metabolic syndrome (19).
Indeed, including nuts in the diet has been showing to decrease some indicators of metabolic syndrome (20).
While this is a topic that has been studied extensively and the vast majority of research supports the role of almonds in improving heart health more research is needed to understand all of the mechanisms behind the process (21).
However, researchers do think that many of the mechanisms are associated with the nutrients in almonds (22).
Additionally, the antioxidant role of almonds may also play a key role in its ability to lower cholesterol and decrease the risk of coronary heart disease (23).
In addition to the role of almonds on cardiovascular disease, they have also been associated with improvements in glycemic responses by reducing the impact of carbohydrates on blood sugar levels (24).
This is one of the reasons that almonds are so good as a snack as it also means that they do not spike blood sugar.
This may be part of the mechanism behind the role of almonds in protecting the heart (25).
The role of almonds in relation to blood sugar levels is also connected to the magnesium within almonds.
Magnesium is an important nutrient but people are frequently deficient in it without being aware of the fact (26).
This is a particularly significant issue for diabetics and between 25% and 38% of patients with type 2 diabetes are low in magnesium.
This issue strongly contributes to insulin resistance in these patients.
In addition, magnesium can play a role in helping to compensate for variations in insulin sensitivity in patients who do not have diabetes (29) and may play a role in reducing the risk of diabetes development in high risk individuals (30).
One reason for this may be that not having sufficient magnesium can result in problems with blood pressure even among people who are not overweight (31).
The magnesium in almonds is one reason that almonds may play a role in helping to control blood sugar but another reason is simply that almonds contain fat rather than sugar.
Both protein and fat impact blood sugar levels significantly less than carbohydrates do.
This means that if people choose to replace some of the carbohydrates in their diet with fats it can result in a more stable blood sugar level overall.
For people needing to keep their blood sugar level under control, this can mean eating almonds as part of a meal instead of just as a snack. Doing so can help to balance the blood sugar reaction that you get from a meal.
Life Length and Mortality
What we do and what we eat really does have the potential to influence how long we live and this is something that people do not consider enough.
With growing evidence that nuts increase cardiovascular health, researchers have turned to considering the impacts of nuts on life length and risk of death.
One study on this topic followed 20,472 male participants and recorded a large amount of information about them, including information on their diets and on factors like their weight and habits.
Even after all other factors were taken into consideration, the authors found that there was an association between higher levels of nut consumption and decreased risk of overall mortality and risk of death from cardiovascular disease (32).
While this study looked at correlations rather than cause and effect, its large size and comprehensive nature make the outcomes of the study very important.
A similar study considered nut consumption among 76,464 females and 42,498 males, using secondary data from two separate studies.
After controlling for risk factors, the authors found an inverse relationship between nut consumption and risk of death for both males and females (33).
Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Roles
Some of the health benefits of almonds come from their antioxidant function (34).
For example, almonds have been associated with decreasing the level of oxidative stress that is associated with smoking (35).
This is an important role as excess oxidation has been associated with a range of negative impacts on health, including the development of a number of diseases.
Interestingly, roasted almonds actually have greater levels of antioxidants than raw almonds (36).This antioxidant role may be a key mechanism for how almonds are able to significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (37).
Additionally, almond consumption has been found to improve endurance performance in cycling and this may be the result of the antioxidant role of almonds (38).
Almonds have also been associated with acting in an anti-inflammatory role.
For example, one study on the topic found that the level of C-reactive protein (an indicator of inflammation) was lower during a diet that included almonds than in a diet without almonds (39).
This is an impact that occurs with nuts in general as well (40).
Other Health Benefits
One interesting role of almond is that it is a prebiotic. This means that it can help to protect against bacteria.
Almonds have also been associated with external benefits for your body. This isn’t an area that tends to be studied scientifically, but it is still a very important area to consider.
In particular, almond oil is frequently used as a way of improving both the skin and the hair and it is also a component of some beauty products.
Many people use almond oil on their skin as a way of cleaning it. The argument for this use is that using oil to clean pores is more effective than using an artificially developed product as ‘oil dissolves oil’.
This can theoretically make almond oil a good way of treating acne and the oil also works well as a moisturizer in general.
The antioxidant properties of the oil mean that it can potentially be effective at reducing some aging lines, especially around the eyes.
Almond oil can also be important for hair, helping it to maintain moisture and to enhance the shine of hair in general.
However, as I mentioned before, the external impacts of almond oil haven’t really been studied. The claims above are common on social media and blogs, but without the research to back them up, it’s difficult to know how accurate the information actually is.
Almonds, Fat and Weight
Nuts are one food group that dieters tend to stay away from.
After all, they are high in fat and calories, so it’s easy to think that eating them is going to result in you gaining weight.
In modern culture, there is this very strong message that all fat is bad for you.
A lot of people take this information and try to cut all fat out of their diet.
This approach completely ignores the differences between types of fats. In total, a 1 ounce serving of almonds contains 13.8 grams of fat (45).
This fat breaks down as follows:
When it comes to fat in foods, saturated fat tends to be considered the biggest villain. In almonds, only 6% of the fat is saturated fat.
This means that despite a relatively high fat content, almonds actually have the potential to decrease the risk of heart problems.
So, what does this mean in terms of weight? Nuts are very energy dense, but relatively little research has looked at how eating nuts can affect body weight.
However, one important outcome of research is that including nuts in the diet (in moderation) can help to increase nutrient quality and compliance, without compromising the potential for weight loss (46).
In addition to being relatively high in fat, almonds are also high in protein and in fiber. These two things are important because they make you feel full (satiated). Feeling satiated is important because it can significantly decrease the amount of energy that you take in (47).
This is something that you have probably seen in your own life.
If you have a snack that actually makes you feel satisfied, it will probably be a little while before you reach for another one. In contrast, if your snack does nothing but taste good, it won’t be long before you grab another one.
The same happens for meals.
Research has supported this outcome, with studies indicating that including nuts in the diet does not result in higher BMI (48,49). The amount of protein and fiber in almonds also means that almonds won’t spike your blood sugar the same way that many other snacks do.
In fact, research suggests that between 55% and 75% of the energy from nuts is compensated for by decreased food intake (50).
As such, snacking on almonds can potentially help you lose weight.
One study even indicated that frequent consumption of seeds and nuts resulted in significant decreases in obesity among women (51). This study was particularly powerful, looking at 9,660 adults and examining a wide range of nutritional behaviors.
While the study was not experimental in nature, the large sample size helps to reinforce the outcomes of the study and suggest that nut consumption (including almonds) can actually decrease the risk of obesity.
Experimental studies have also indicated the potential of almonds to help in weight loss.
One study examined this topic using 108 women who were either overweight or obese.
In this study, participants were divided into two groups. Each of the groups was placed on a balanced low-calorie diet, where one group received almonds as part of the diet while the second group did not have almonds in their diet.
Both sets of participants stayed on the diet for three months, with 100 participants successfully completing the study.
The authors found that the diet that included almonds resulted in higher levels of weight loss and more improvements in cardiovascular risk factors (52).
Nevertheless, you do still need to be sensible with your portion sizes and how often you have them – as is the case with pretty much any other food.
Almonds are a very versatile food. They can be eaten on their own in many different ways including raw, toasted and flavored, and likewise, they can be included in a wide range of different dishes.
Almonds can also be found in a range of different forms, such as whole, sliced, slivered and flaked.
Snacking on Almonds
The nutritional profile of almonds along with the health benefits that they offer make almonds a fantastic choice for snacking, much better than most other options out there.
One research study looked at the consumption of almonds either with meals or as standalone snacks and examined the impact of the almonds on a range of outcomes.
Some key areas that the study looked at were fasting blood parameters, glycemia, short-term body weight changes and appetite.
As snacks, almonds reduced hunger as well as the desire to eat. Additionally, both uses of almonds resulted in decreased glucose levels following their consumption.
This offers strong evidence that snacking on almonds doesn’t contribute to weight gain and offers benefits in terms of appetite and metabolism (53).
One good approach is to have a handful or so of almonds as a mid-afternoon snack.
For most people (depending on your hand size), this is somewhere around one ounce of almonds, which is a good amount for a snack.
This can often be a good way of getting some energy to get you through the rest of the day.
Snacking on almonds is also a great way to stave off hunger if you are between meals.
An alternative approach is to cover almonds (not flavored almonds) in dark chocolate. This is a great way to combine the health benefits of dark chocolate and almonds, although it is a treat that you want to have in moderation.
However, do be careful when it comes to snacking. Many people do rely on snacks for weight loss and staying healthy but it can be easy to eat too much. The site Paleo Leap has a good approach to this topic, helping people to figure out whether snacking is right for them personally. The post is focused on the Paleo diet specifically but the concepts apply to most eating approaches.
Almonds in Recipes
There are a lot of options if you want to include almonds in meals.
Almonds work especially well as additions to salads, providing a little bit of crunch and some variation in taste and texture.
Chopped or flaked almonds are also commonly used sprinkled over a range of dessert dishes, such as ice cream sundaes. Almonds are also frequently used in sweet baking, such as cookies and cakes.
You don’t have to buy almonds chopped, instead, you can do this yourself using a food processor. You can even roast almonds yourself at home in the oven.
The site Paleo Hacks also offers a comprehensive list of different almond recipes.
Some other ideas for using almonds include the following:
Types of Almonds
When it comes to choosing what almonds to snack on, there are multiple options out there, some better than others.
Ultimately though, which almonds you choose are going to be based on your own needs and personal preferences.
Roasted and Flavored Almonds
One of the most popular types of almonds is roasted and flavored almonds.
Blue Diamond has a large range of these in different flavors and different sizes.
When it comes to flavored almonds, one major issue to watch out for is salt. In many cases, much of the flavor comes from salt – which can be a problem for anyone who has to watch their salt intake.
One example is the smokehouse flavor of Blue Diamond almonds, where the flavoring on the almonds is very visible. Not all of this flavoring is salt, but a lot of it is. For the smokehouse flavor, the level of sodium is 150mg per 28 nuts (which is roughly 1 ounce of nuts).
This amount of sodium is probably okay for many people, but some people have to watch their salt levels. Additionally, many people already have too much salt in their diet, and adding extra isn’t a good idea.
However, there are many other alternatives, including low salt varieties and varieties that are whole and natural, without any added salt.
Nevertheless, if you are truly looking for the most health benefits from your almonds, it is best to steer away from the pre-flavored ones and to go with almonds that are more natural.
Like roasted almonds, raw almonds are high in nutrients.
Raw almonds do have a different taste because the roasting process releases oil fats that change the taste of the nuts. Some people find that they prefer the taste of roasted almonds while others prefer the raw almond taste.
Both types can be used in cooking and the roasted almonds tend to produce a crunchier taste in foods than the raw ones.
Of the two types, roasted almonds tend to be digested easier, but both types offer the same nutritional benefits.
When it comes to raw almonds, the labeling can be misleading. In 2001 and 2004, two salmonella outbreaks were linked to raw almonds that had been grown in California.
As a consequence, the USDA now requires that all raw almonds have to be pasteurized – even though they are still labeled as being raw.
There are a few different approaches that companies can take to pasteurize almonds, which include chemical washes and heat treatments (54).
This change is concerning, because the process of pasteurization does have the potential to alter the nutritional composition of the nuts.
Additionally, regular pasteurization of foods is still a relatively new practice and we still don’t fully know the long-term impacts of the practice.
This change means that if you want truly raw almonds, you have to look for almonds that were produced outside of the United States. However, even then you have no real way of knowing for certain whether or not the almonds have been pasteurized.
Personally, I find the whole approach ridiculous.
Many other food products are sold raw and people are aware of the need to cook them before consumption. If nothing else, the labeling for raw almonds should be much clearer so people actually know when they are getting raw almonds and when their almonds have been pasteurized.
Unless they have read about pasteurization of almonds, most people would assume that the term raw means that no processing or chemical alteration has occurred on the food. After all, that is the normal implication of the word.
The fact that companies don’t have to say anything about their pasteurization and don’t have to indicate which approach they used for pasteurization is deeply concerning.
It’s important to note that with truly raw almonds there are also some risks associated. Because these almonds have not gone through the pasteurization process, there is an increased risk of bacteria in the nuts, such as salmonella.
Additionally, the shell of truly raw almonds can also have some toxins. In general, this means that it is best to look for raw almonds that have already been shelled.
Truly raw almonds do potentially offer the most health benefits because they aren’t pasteurized, but you do need to take more care with them.
Some people argue that raw almonds have higher amounts of nutrients than roasted almonds.
This is based on the idea that the roasting process heats up almonds to the point that key enzymes are destroyed.
One of the challenges with this concept is that it isn’t an area that has been studied directly. However, research with hazelnuts has indicated that the roasting process has the potential to alter the composition of some nutrients, especially amino acids (55).
However, even if roasting does decrease the nutrients in almonds, this may be balanced out by the way that roasted almonds are easier to digest (56).
This means that the human body can more efficiently draw nutrients from roasted almonds than from raw almonds.
Indeed, one research study on the ability of almonds to lower cholesterol indicated that the outcomes were the same across multiple different forms of almonds, including both raw and roasted almonds (57).
This suggests that your choice on roasted versus raw almonds should be based on personal preference, not on nutrition.
Selection and Storage
Roasted and Flavored Almonds
When choosing almonds, knowing who you are purchasing from and what they do is an important approach.
For example, one of the leading companies that sell almonds is Blue Diamond.
Blue Diamond is one of a number of companies that treats the majority of its product lines with the fumigant propylene oxide (PPO).
PPO is generally considered to be toxic chemical and the long-term impacts of using it to pasteurize nuts are largely unknown.
However, there are other brands that use steam processes for pasteurization, which is a safer process. Not surprisingly, one brand that does this is the Whole Foods store brand and Trader Joe’s also has a similar approach.
It’s also worth looking out for almonds that have been dry roasted. Dry roasting means that the almonds are not roasted in oil – as roasting almonds in oil is worse for your health.
You should also take the time to check out the label of the almonds. Ideally, you are looking for almonds that do not have additional ingredients, such as preservatives or high fructose corn syrup.
Other Types of Almonds
Out of all the types of almonds, almonds that are still in their shells will last the longest, but you have to take care when selecting them.
Look for shells that are not stained, moldy or split as this will ensure you get the best quality almonds. With almonds out of their shells, almonds that are kept in sealed containers will tend to last longer.
Many stores offer almonds in bulk bins, but these will have been exposed to more air and humidity. If you are buying from bulk bins, look for stores where the bins are well sealed and where there is rapid turnover of the inventory.
When you select almonds like this, look for the ones that have uniform color and are not shriveled. If possible, it’s also worth smelling the almonds, as you want almonds that smell nutty and sweet.
Organic or Not?
When it comes to choosing almonds, an additional thing to consider is whether you choose organic almonds or not.
As with most other food products, choosing organic almonds does tend to be the healthier option. The key reason for this is that organic producers of almonds tend to use fewer chemicals in growing and processing the almonds, meaning that the final product is more natural overall.
However, organic almonds do tend to be more expensive than non-organic ones, so which you choose may ultimately be influenced by your budget.
When it comes to storing almonds one critical thing to consider is whether you are storing raw almonds or commercial almonds that have been roasted and packaged.
The roasting process helps to protect the almonds, giving them a longer shelf life than they would have had otherwise.
With raw almonds, you need to pay more attention to how you store them.
Raw almonds need to be stored in a dry, cool and dark place. You should also store them in an air-tight bag as you don’t want moisture to enter and make them go rancid.
It is also possible to refrigerate or freeze raw almonds.
In fact, it is always best to store raw almonds in the refrigerator if they are outside of their shell because they can spoil fast. If they are refrigerated, almonds can last multiple months and frozen almonds can last around a year.
With raw almonds, you have to be particularly careful to make sure the nuts don’t go rancid.
You can’t normally figure this out by smell alone, but normally rancid nuts will taste sour and may be discolored as well. Because raw almonds can go rancid easily, it is best to buy them in small quantities at a time.
As with any type of tree nut, it is important to be aware of the potential for an allergic reaction, especially when using almonds in food.
Almond nut allergy is not as common as some other types of nut allergy but it is still an important area to consider.
Some of the key symptoms of this type of allergy include abdominal pain, vomiting, difficulty breathing and congestion in the chest. If you experience any of these issues when eating almonds it is best to stop immediately, as some nut allergies can cause fatal reactions.
Nevertheless, almond nut allergy shares cross reactions with some other tree nuts, so if you are allergic to almonds you are probably already aware of it from allergic reactions to other tree nuts.
If you are at all concerned, the best person to talk to would be your primary physician who can provide you with the information that you need.
Another area to consider in relation to almonds is the presence of oxalates.
Oxalates are naturally-occurring compounds that are generally harmless. However, when too many oxalates accumulate then there is the potential for some negative impacts.
In particular, oxalates are associated with decreasing the ability of the body to absorb calcium.
In many cases (such as with almonds), the compounds with oxalates are also the ones that contribute calcium to the diet. As such, the negative impacts of oxalates tend to be countered by positive impacts of the food.
So, even with the presence of oxalates, the health benefits of almonds far outweigh any negative ones.
However, there are a few rare conditions that require careful moderation of oxalate levels. If you do have a condition like this then almonds are something to avoid, however, the conditions are rare and you should know if you already have one.
What about Almond Milk?
Almond milk is often promoted as a healthy alternative to normal milk. After all, the drink is plant-based and is dairy free, which many people consider to be a good thing.
Others simply assume that because almond milk contains almonds, it must be good for you, but this is a pretty poor assumption.
Realistically, in most cases it isn’t even clear what the real benefits of almond milk even are.
Regardless of what you think of milk itself, almond milk is a whole different story. As you can imagine, it isn’t actually milk in the normal sense of the word.
Instead, it largely consists of a low amount of almonds, a lot of filtered water and lots of additives.
For example, one brand of almond milk is Silk. One serving of the milk (about a cup) has 1 gram of protein, while an entire half gallon contain contains a grand total of 8 grams protein.
In contrast, one ounce of almonds (about a handful) contains 6 grams of protein (58).
So, you would get more protein from a handful of almonds than you would from half of the container of Silk almond milk – and the protein is a key reason for eating almonds to start off with. The low level of protein in almond milk is also an indication of just how few almonds are in the drink.
In fact, almond milk is very water intensive, both in terms of the large amount of water in the drink and the large amount needed to grow the almonds in the first place.
But, what about nutrients? One argument for almond milk is that it is much lower in fat than actual almonds. And this is certainly true. However, almond milk is also lower in fiber and protein, which isn’t nearly as good.
Additionally, the high-fat content of almonds isn’t as bad as it seems, and this is something I talked about earlier in the article.
The protein and the fiber in almonds help to create a snack that is filling, which can ultimately contribute to weight loss rather than weight gain.
Another argument for almond milk is the amount of nutrients. This one is true. Almond milk does contain more of some key nutrients than almonds do themselves, particularly calcium and vitamin E.
In fact, the high level of calcium is one reason why almond milk is promoted as an alternative to normal milk.
But, where does this calcium come from? The answer becomes clear when you look at the ingredients list for almond milk (in this case Silk’s almond milk).
As you can see, pretty much all of the nutrients in almond milk don’t actually come from almonds. Instead, they are added into the drink artificially.
If you want to get those nutrients into your diet why not just take a supplement or better yet, include foods in your diet that contain the nutrients naturally?
There is certainly no reason to drink almond milk just for nutrients that are artificially added into it.
Additionally, one cup of almond milk contains 160mg of sodium while (unsalted) almonds don’t contain any. This difference is very relevant for people on low salt diets.
Even if you do like the taste of roasted and salted almonds, you can get low sodium almonds, which contain around 40mg of sodium (depending on the brand) for one ounce of the almonds.
Overall, these differences mean that almond milk is going to contribute very little to your health. The drink simply isn’t worth the effort or the cost.
The main exception to this is people who are not able to drink milk. For people in this situation, milk alternatives like almond milk may be necessary.
What About Almond Butter?
Almond butter is essentially an alternative to peanut butter and can make a good addition to one’s diet.
Unlike almond milk, almond butter does actually contain a significant amount of almonds. This makes it a good way of getting almonds into your diet instead of eating the whole almonds.
With almond butter, it’s really important to pay attention to the ingredient labels, because there are a lot of differences across different brands of almond butter.
For example, some companies add in salt, sugar, hydrogenated oils and other additives to make the butter taste better.
To get the best health benefits, you should stick with natural almond butter – ideally almond butter that contains nothing but almonds.
What is Pasteurization for Almonds?
In general, the process of pasteurization is an approach used to kill the bacteria in food products and make them safer for human consumption.
The common use of the term is the approach of heating milk (and now other liquids) to high enough temperatures to kill any bacteria present.
However, with almonds and many other food products the definition of pasteurization is broader.
In particular, there are two main approaches to pasteurization. The first is steam processing while the second one is the use of propylene oxide (PPO), which I talked about earlier.
There are some variations to the process, but in general, steam processes tend to make use of short bursts of steam that hit the almond’s outer skin. This process is not enough to cook the almond in any way, so its nutritional composition is unchanged.
The FDA and the EPA argue that PPO is an entirely safe process that doesn’t affect nutritional quality in any way.
However, there is significant controversy about this claim, especially as it is challenging to determine whether something already in the food supply is having negative impacts or not.
There is also an alternative to pasteurization.
Companies do not have to pasteurize almonds if they are going through a process that would kill bacteria anyway, such as roasting.
This means that some roasted nuts may not have gone through pasteurization at all. On the other hand, many companies do pasteurize almonds even if the end product is roasted.
Does PPO Really Cause Cancer?
PPO itself is defined as a carcinogen, which means that the compound is able to cause cancer (59). Additionally, the substance has been associated with a range of other negative health outcomes, including skin irritation, respiratory tract infection and even neurological effects (60).
The impacts of PPO are certainly concerning, but they are related to exposure to significant levels of the chemical itself, rather than the pasteurization process.
Despite the health outcomes of the chemical itself, the FDA does seem to consider PPO pasteurization safe, although it offers little indication of what evidence is behind this claim.
In theory, PPO pasteurization is likely to involve relatively low levels of PPO and most of this will not remain on the almond. Research does suggest that most of the PPO dissipates from various food products quickly following exposure (61).
In practice, the amount of research available to the public that has been done on the topic is very limited and it is difficult to know what effect, if any, PPO pasteurization has on human health.
Nevertheless, using a toxic chemical to make food safer to eat seems like a counterproductive approach, especially when there are other options available.
Personally, I would recommend choosing brands that steam to pasteurize their almonds rather than PPO. After all, there is much less risk with steam than with chemicals.
Should You Soak Almonds?
One area that is often discussed online is the idea of soaking almonds before you eat them.
This approach is partially connected to the tannins in the skin of almonds.
Tannins are natural compounds that are present in many different species of plant and they help to protect the plant. Tannins are modified over time, and this is a key element of the way that fruit ripens.
Traditionally, tannins have been considered to be antinutritional. This means that the compounds interfere with nutrients being absorbed.
In theory, soaking almonds helps to get rid of the tannins on the skin of the nut, which is thought to be a healthy approach.
However, the idea that tannins are antinutritional is actually a simplistic perspective and is not fully accurate.
Instead, the impact of tannins on health is connected to the type of tannin, its molecular weight and chemical structure as well as the amount of tannin consumed (62). Indeed, in some cases tannins have been associated with health benefits instead of antinutritional properties (63).
In the case of almonds, relatively little research has focused on the impacts of the tannins in the skin. However, one study indicated that some of the tannins found in almonds have been associated with anti-inflammatory and prebiotic impacts (64).
Additionally, flavonoids from the skin of almonds have been associated with health benefits including an antioxidant role (65). In terms of nutrition this suggests that soaking almonds in water may not be helpful and may even be detrimental.
A second reason for soaking almonds is to make them sprout, which is thought to activate the enzymes and make them healthier. This perspective is not one that has been studied and appears to largely come from personal belief.
While there are many people who strongly feel that soaking almonds is essential for getting the most out of them there simply isn’t any evidence for this perspective.
A third reason for soaking almonds is to decrease the level of phytic acid.
Phytic acid is a controversial compound, and like tannins it has been associated with both positive and negative impacts on health (66).
Unless you are eating large amounts of almonds every day, there really seems little advantage in soaking the almonds. There really is no evidence that soaking improves health outcomes and it is likely that the process removes some beneficial and some non-beneficial compounds.
In the case of phytic acid, it can potentially result in a decrease of absorption of some nutrients. However, the levels of almonds that most people consume are not high enough to have any real impact on absorption (67).
The only exception to this would be people who eat large amounts of nuts.
The Paleo diet is one example of this, as the diet cuts out many different food groups and people on the diet often eat large amounts of nuts to feel full and to get nutrients.
If you eating large amounts of nuts on a daily basis then you may want to reexamine your diet or get some nutrition advice about whether your approach is safe for your health.
Perhaps the only real reason that you might choose to soak almonds is that this approach can change the texture and make them a bit easier to digest. This also makes the almonds easier to chew, which is important for the young and the elderly, as many people do find almonds a bit tough to chew.
Likewise, the texture change may be relevant if you are using the almonds in cooking and want the flavor without so much crunch.
Are Almonds Hard to Digest?
Almonds can be a little challenging to digest, particularly if you are having raw almonds. This is one of the reasons that people choose to soak almonds.
In some cases, challenges with digesting raw almonds can make people feel sick after eating them, and can lead to cramping, bloating, diarrhea or constipation.
However, this issue does vary from one person to the next and it is most relevant for people with sensitive digestive systems.
If you have any of these issues with eating almonds, then you may want to consider limiting your almond intake and decreasing the amount of almonds you have at a time.
Additionally, the challenges in digesting almonds can mean that people do not get the full nutritional benefits from them.
Nevertheless, the health benefits of almonds and their impact on satiety is an indication that much of the nutrients do get digested.
How do Almonds Impact the Environment?
When it comes to products that humans use, there are always two key areas of influence. The first is the way that the product affects the people using it and the second is the impact of actually producing the product.
Understanding and concern about environmental impacts is growing and this perspective is starting to play a role in the foods that people choose to eat.
This makes the challenge of talking about health benefits even more difficult.
As you can see from our discussion, almonds are fantastic for human health, but what about the environment? Well, not so much…
The vast majority of almonds are produced in California, which is currently experiencing a major drought. Yet, almonds are a water-intensive crop. With sales of almonds continuing to grow, the ecological impact on California is concerning.
How do Almonds Compare to Walnuts?
When looking at the health benefits of almonds, it’s natural to compare them to other nuts, such as walnuts.
In general, nuts share many of the same impacts on human health, especially as they tend to be high in fiber and protein and often have many different nutrients.
For example, one study comparing almonds and walnuts found that they both had similar effects on lipids (68).
Nevertheless, there are also some differences between nuts, meaning that they can confer different health benefits.
For example, walnuts are higher in antioxidants than other types of nuts (69).
In contrast, almonds tend to be more nutrient dense than other nuts, making them fantastic for health.
Almonds, Health and You
Like most nuts, there is still this stigma about almonds because of their relatively high fat content. However, as I’ve discussed here, almonds really will not contribute to weight gain – they may even help you lose weight.
Combined with all of the other health benefits of almonds, especially in relation to heart health and blood sugar, there really is no reason not to give almonds a try.
Roasted or raw, as a snack or in a meal, whole, sliced, slivered or in the shell – there are lots of different options to suit what you need and what you like.
So, go out there and give them a try.
Want to Improve Your Health?
Better health starts in the kitchen, with the food that you eat and the meals you prepare. Getting the best outcomes involves making good choices about the food and the ingredients that you use.
Check out my recommended products to see where you can get started.