What do you reach for when you start to feel those 10 a.m. hunger pangs? Although it might be tempting to head to the vending machine, wouldn’t you feel better indulging—yes, indulging—in something that not only satisfies your hunger and is good for your body, but also tastes great? If you’re nodding your head, then almonds might be just what you’ve been searching for.
Almonds are the seeds of a fruit related to peaches, apricots, and plums—check the center pit of these fruits and you’ll notice that their seeds look like tiny almonds! Many ancient civilizations had access to the nuts, and wild almond trees grew near trade routes—such as the popular Silk Road that connected China with the Mediterranean—which facilitated their spread. Evidence of this can still be seen in California today, where wild stands of almonds grow along ditches and roads. About 80 percent of almonds are grown in the Golden State, making it the biggest producer of the world’s almond supply and the state’s No. 1 food export.
Cultivation of almonds is thought to date back as early as 4000 BC, but Hebrew literature from 2000 BC first references the nut in Canaan, modern-day Israel. Early literature from Turkey, Romania, and the Baltic peninsula also reference almonds. In books such as Genesis, the Bible references almonds as an object of value and a symbol of hope. When King Tut died in 1352 BC, he took almonds to his grave to nourish his journey into the afterlife. Renaissance artists (such as Van Gogh) have depicted almond shapes in their work, and the Romans often gifted almonds to newlyweds as a fertility charm. With their vast history, it’s no wonder almonds continue to maintain religious, ethnic, and social significance today.
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A Tiny Powerhouse
Almonds may be a small addition to your diet, but these nuts are a huge nutritional force. Rich in the antioxidant vitamin E, and full of the body benefitting B vitamins, almonds also contain many essential minerals—such as magnesium, copper, manganese, calcium, and potassium—which reduce the risk for conditions like hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Almonds are also a great source of protein and fiber, which both keep your belly full and contribute to a healthy digestive system.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats abound in almonds. These fatty acids contribute to lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, which in turn can lessen the risk for developing heart disease. A recent study published in the British Journal of Nutrition reported that for every ounce of almonds eaten daily by participants during the study, the participants’ estimated 10-year coronary heart disease risk score was reduced by 3.5 percent.
The study’s chief investigator, Cyrill Kendall, PhD, noted that this study’s findings were consistent with previous research, including Mediterranean diet research, indicating that monounsaturated essential fatty acids are a major player in the war against high cholesterol and heart disease risk. Olive oil consumption is a large part of the Mediterranean diet—and almonds contain a high amount of the same type of fatty acids that abound in olive oil.
Although a low-fat diet is often appealing to those trying to lose weight, almonds might actually aid in weight loss efforts—despite their high fat content. A study from Loma Linda University in California found that dieters who snacked on almonds daily lost 62 percent more weight and 56 percent more fat than those who didn’t include almonds in their diet. The lead author of the study, Michelle Wien, RD, explains that the nut’s fiber content may speed up weight loss by preventing the body from absorbing other fats.
We all crave smoother, softer skin—but did you know that snacking on almonds could help you resolve common complexion issues? The nut’s high vitamin E content can help nourish skin and protect it from the sun’s damaging UV rays—which, among other problems, can cause discoloration and wrinkles. The antioxidant works by neutralizing free radicals; these molecules damage collagen, dry out our skin, and ultimately create those pesky lines and wrinkles.
And don’t be fooled: Just because winter is approaching and the weather is turning colder, doesn’t mean the sun’s UV-A rays no longer affect our skin. The temperature has nothing to do with the strength of ultraviolet rays, despite the fact that we normally associate sunburn with heat. Although packing almonds as an afternoon snack doesn’t give you license to bake in the sun (or to forego a facial sunscreen), the nut may help you maintain supple skin while you also practice other safe sun habits.
Problems with skin tone or blemishes? Try a DIY almond-based paste for your face! Applied topically, the antioxidants and other essential nutrients can help heal problem areas. Massage almond oil into acne scars to help fade marks, or mix almond powder with lemon juice, milk, and honey for a brightening mask.
The beauty benefits don’t end with skin. Almonds can help your hair, too! Almonds are loaded with magnesium, which doesn’t hurt their case for hair health: Deficiency in the mineral has been linked to hair loss. Additionally, almond oil acts like a moisturizer to “feed” your hair the nutrients to prevent breakage and keep strands shiny and strong. Massage the oil onto your scalp and let it penetrate your roots; shampoo normally after a couple hours. Alternatively, you can use almond milk as a hair rinse to strengthen hair after your normal shampoo/conditioner routine. And those healthy fats we mentioned earlier? Those can help with nail strength and growth.
Nutty For Nuts
A handful of almonds—about 22 to 28 nuts, or 1 ounce—is your optimal serving size. One ounce of almonds contains 160 calories, 6 grams of protein, and 3 grams of fiber. Although you shouldn’t be alarmed by the high fat count (which clocks in at 14 grams per serving), it’s important to be aware of it. Almonds boast those healthy essential fatty acids, but this is one time when “too much of a good thing” definitely rings true. After all, almonds won’t help with weight reduction if you eat too many of them.
To keep your intake in check, pre-portion your almonds to prevent overeating; once you start snacking, it’s not hard to mindlessly eat more than you originally intended. However, if you eat the recommended portion once daily, almonds can help you stay full longer and may ease other cravings you have between meals. Snack on them pre- or post-workout, bring them to work already portioned in a container, add them to baked goods such as breads and muffins (almond flour is a great option, too!), or mix them into homemade granola and trail mix. You can even top salads and soups with them, or roast with your own seasonings for some extra flair. We like ginger, cinnamon, or lime flavors! If you enjoy non-dairy milk, try using almond milk in your cereal, smoothies, and coffee. Look for the unsweetened variety to save calories and cut unnecessary sugar—it will still have a distinct, creamy taste.
Really, the possibilities are endless when it comes to adding this versatile nut to your diet. Pick your favorite way to indulge—without feeling a single bit of guilt.