Smart Fuel: Almonds

AlmondsWe’ve known for quite some time that a peanut isn’t really a nut (it’s a legume), but turns out almonds have long been sneaking in to the mixed nuts too! In fact, almonds are nothing more than a seed for an almond tree, a medium sized tree that produces flowers and almond fruit.

But that’s not where the trickery ends: Although similar in that they have an oval shape, off-white flesh, thin, brown-hued skin, there are in fact two kinds of almonds: Sweet, which are the ones we eat, and bitter, which are used to make almond oil or Amaretto but are otherwise inedible. For our purposes today, we’re only going to be talking about the raw, edible kind.

Perhaps one of the earliest convenience foods, the almond has gotten honorable mentions in many historical texts, including the Bible, and were previously referred to as the “Greek nut” in reference to what was thought to be the nut’s – uh, seed’s – birthplace. Today, almonds are cultivated in many of the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea including Spain, Italy, Portugal and Morocco, as well as in California.

Almond Fruit

But why should you be eating them? Almonds are a good source of supplementary protein, providing 7.62 grams of protein per quarter cup serving, compared to just 5.5 grams for the average egg. In addition, they are an excellent source of manganese, potassium, copper and vitamin E and also provide a hefty dose of heart healthy monounsaturated fats. In fact, ounce for ounce, you could say that almonds are a real health nut!

In terms of specific health benefits, it has been suggested by several large studies that almonds can reduce cardiovascular risk. In an analysis of four large prospective studies on the health benefits of almonds, researchers determined that eating nuts at least 4 times a week reduced coronary heart disease risk by as much as 37%. In addition, each additional serving of nuts was associated with an estimated 8.3% reduction in coronary heart disease risk. Research suggests that the almond’s protective heart benefits stem from its combination of powerful antioxidant flavonoids, the majority of which are concentrated in the almond’s skin.

Studies also suggest that regular almond consumption can reduce the risk of developing gall stones and may even help stave off weight gain.

So now we have you hooked, its time to stock up! Almonds are available at just about every grocery store and convenience store – heck, you can even find them in gas stations – either still in their shell or with the shell removed. Shelled almonds are available whole, sliced or slivered, with or without skin. For maximum health benefits, opt for those that have the skin intact (do it for the antioxidants!) If purchasing almonds in the shell, look for those that are intact with no splits, tears, dents or other signs of trauma. In terms of shelled almonds, those that are hermetically sealed will last the longest, but be sure to check the ingredients list – even if an almond is listed as dry roasted, it can sometimes contain added sugar and preservatives.

In terms of uses, almonds are perhaps one of the more versatile nuts. For breakfast, they can be used to add crunch and flavor to plain yogurt or can be ground up to add extra protein to a protein shake. In addition, they are delicious when sprinkled over cooked leafy green vegetables, added to stir-frys, or used to texturize a simple chicken salad. Also, consider using finely ground almonds as almond flour. It can be used in some recipes in place of traditional wheat flour.

Alternatively, they’re great when on the go, all by themselves!

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27 thoughts on “Smart Fuel: Almonds”

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  1. I like to buy whole raw almonds and other nuts (not sure if raw labeled almonds are really raw anymore though), soak them overnight in slightly sea-salted water, then I drain and dry them very well about 24 hours or so on a sheet pan in my oven on the lowest setting (170°F), with the oven door slightly ajar with a wooden spoon to further lower the temp to about 150°F and release the moisture (since I don’t have a food dehydrator – yet!).

    Soaking and drying might seem like a lot of work, but it really isn’t (sort of like Crock Pot cooking). I do soak/dry many as I can fit in shallow pans on both oven racks in the oven to make the most of the energy used. The soaked and dried nuts are nicely crisp and just barely salty, and without the damaged oils that results from the high heat of roasting. Soaking also initiates the sprouting enzymes, which neutralizes the phytates that bind minerals and reduce bioavailability of nutrients in raw nuts. I make sure the nuts are well-dried and cooled before storing in air-tight glass canisters (no moldy nuts!).

    I do the same with whole groats (oats), pecans, walnuts, and hazelnuts (filberts). Cashews can get slimy if soaked too long, so I only soak them a few hours.

  2. I believe that there are now rules against labeling almonds raw and actually meaning it. I think you’re allowed to buy raw almonds directly from a producer (like at a farmers’ market or farm) and that theoretically they’re not even allowed to tell you they’re really raw. And they can’t ship or sell them online. It’s so strange. I bought some for the first time at the Santa Monica farmers’ market.

    I’m intrigued about bitter almonds now. I love amaretto. I suppose I can’t start pretending that amaretto gelato is good for me. Damn.

    Thanks for the good almond info! I’ll keep eating them and baking with almond flour.

    Food Is Love

  3. I love almonds! Anna, the way you process them sounds intriguing, I’ll have to try that.

    I never think to add almonds to anything, just always eat them whole & raw (whatever that means, I guess?). I get a 48 oz. bag at Sam’s Club for like $12.00 and it lasts for awhile, even with two of us eating almonds pretty regularly.

    My husband loves to eat a few chocolate chips with a few almonds, he says it’s like eating a cookie. I can’t disagree, although my nut of choice for that is walnuts because that’s what Mom used. This way he can have something sweet & reasonably portioned, and the almonds won’t upset his stomach like other snacky food (or real cookies) would.

  4. I love almonds. They’re such a great snack to carry around in your pocket if you’re constantly on the go. For a lot of my clients, like nurses and teachers, almonds are a great choice for them.

  5. I love almonds too. I eat them plain, or as almond butter on apples or bagels. And dark chocolate covered almonds might as well be crack for the effect they have on me. If I have them in the house, it’s an obsession, and I can’t stop eating them. Yum yum yummy yummy yum!

  6. I Love Almonds!!!! I eat raw almonds, fresh ground almond butter, and saute in almond oil!
    I also eat cashews, and cashew butter!

  7. What is the nutritional composition of green almonds (as shown in the second picture) as compared to regular/brown/mature almonds?

  8. AS well as snacking on almonds, I make protein smoothies with unsweetened almond milk – very low carb and yummy too! My cat even likes it.

    I also snack on 1 tsp raw almond butter + one square 99% Lindt chocolate — kind of like a very healthy candy bar.

  9. I HATE almonds but i know eating them would cut out a lot of junk food i eat while I’m in class. Any tips on teaching myself to like them? Or is there an equivalent easy snack for me to carry in school?

    1. Imani: try tossing them with a bit of olive oil and cinnamon and then roasting them in a 400F oven until toasty.

  10. It’s important to note that all nuts and seeds have a high omega6-omega3 ratio, even almonds.

    Thus, if you’re eating a lot of them, it may be necessary to either eat a lot of oily fish, or supplement liberally with fish oil.

  11. I had the same concern about the omega balance when baking with almond & coconut flours. I have taken to adding freshly ground flax seed to the recipes, and am considering upping my fish oil intake as well, because I love nuts and use them frequently.(I soak and dry them like Anna does.)

  12. I love raw almonds, but have had a problem with them cracking the fillings in my teeth! My dentist says they are one of the worst culprits — and I’m undergoing lots of dental work to prove it! Any suggestions?

  13. Can almonds truly be considered Paleo, when sweet almonds did not exist until farmers started selectively breeding for them? Previous to that era, wild almonds were poisonous and bad tasting.

  14. If grains use lectins, gluten, and phytic acid as defense against being eaten, what does an almond use?

  15. In your 21-day book, you warn against excessive nuts because the fat content might prevent the body from burning its own fat. Almonds are my go to snack because they ward off any hunger I feel between meals or if a meal was less than satisfying a few almonds or a spoon or two of almond butter hits the spot. Is this not a good idea? You already got me to give up the peanuts, so I’m hoping that daily almonds are a-ok.

  16. I love almonds and eat them a lot, but why is it suggested to eat nuts and seeds in moderation on a lot of primal guidelines?

    1. I haven’t come across that yet, but I suspect that it might be due to phytic acid, the way plants store phosphorous, making it harder to digest and blocking the absorption of other nutrients. I would suggest eating ‘nuts’ that are sprouted or germinated (the same thing), as this helps to neutralize the phytic acid and releases more nutrients.

  17. Which is better: whole almonds or almond butter?

    Assume you eat the same amount of each. Whole almonds: Positive: the nut protects the oil from the air and oxidation, etc. Negative: then they are usually not packaged in an air tight sealed container, and even if they were, there would be lots of air around the nuts, and they might be sitting around this way for months. Almond butter: Positive: They are likely to be picked, ground, and bottled quickly. Only the top layer would be exposed to a small amount of air.