Almonds are your friend

picture credit: Victor Hanacek ( Nuts have had a hard time: being high in fat and therefore calories, they were shunned by many. However, they’ve been enjoying a comeback since fat has been exonerated and we now know that “a calorie is not a calorie”. Recent research has shown that – contrary to popular belief – almonds actually help you slim down rather than make you fat, and protect the heart at the same time. A possible reason for the slimming effect of almonds may be that they make you feel satisfied and you are less likely to reach for sugary snacks. Another possibility is that they stimulate the metabolism. Nuts (and seeds) offer excellent nutrition and are a very handy, portable snack.

Although almonds contain mainly oil, they also have a significant amount of protein. They are also a good source of soluble fibre, which aids digestion. Most of the oil in almonds is monounsaturated (omega-9), the key fat in the Mediterranean diet, which has been found to protect against heart disease and high blood pressure. Their combination of fat, protein and fibre also ensure a slow release of energy, which helps stabilising blood sugar levels. As they contain virtually no carbohydrates apart from fibre, they are an excellent food for diabetics, too.

They are great sources of magnesium, potassium, calcium, zinc and iron. Magnesium relaxes the mind as well as muscles and, like calcium, it is vital for strong bones. Potassium is an important mineral to support the adrenal glands (think: stress and fatigue) and is thought to prevent hypertension and possibly stroke. Zinc is an antioxidant, an essential co-factor in energy production and, among many other things, good for the skin. Almonds also contain copper, another mineral that promotes healthy skin and brain function. Moreover, they contain vitamin E, an antioxidant vitamin that protects from tissue damage, not least the lining of the arteries. The brown skin of almonds contains the phytochemical resveratrol, a chemical that enhances blood flow to the brain. Another phytochemical in almond skin – laetrile – is thought to protect from cancer, particularly cancer of the colon.

A word of caution: Don’t go crazy on them either. One reason is that that are still quite calorific, and if you do eat a ton of them, you may put on weight after all. Studies that found that almonds reduce abdominal adiposity used 1.5 oz per day (40 g). You probably wouldn’t want to eat much more anyway, but consider this if using almond butter.

Almonds contain a compound called phytic acid, which impairs the absorption of iron, zinc and to a lesser extent calcium, if only in that particular meal, not any later meals. One way of reducing phytic acid is by soaking – which is what you would do before making almond milk. If you have a dehydrator, consider soaking, then dehydrating the almonds.

Have you ever seen “activated” nuts in the health food shop and wondered what that means? These nuts have first been soaked, then dehydrated. However, they are even more expensive than ‘normal’ almonds. Apart from reducing the phytic acid content, soaking deactivates an enzyme inhibitor contained in the almond, thus activating the enzymes they contain and making almonds even more nutritious.

Almonds need a warmer climate than Northern Europe can provide, so they are generally imported. If you buy almonds from a less affluent country, make sure to buy Fairtrade. Despite the fact that they are imported, almonds – like other nuts – are still a green choice. The trees absorb and store carbon from the environment, which makes them an environmentally friendly crop. Moreover, they do not require a lot of pesticides, so if you can’t afford organic, regular almonds are fine, especially since they are relatively expensive anyway. But remember how good they are for you. Also, they are quite filling, so you are likely to use them sparingly anyway.

If you end up with a bag of nuts that tastes stale or very bitter, they are rancid. Don’t be too shy to take them back to the shop and ask for a refund or exchange, as they are too expensive to write off. At home, store them in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Light, heat and air destroy the unsaturated fatty acids, ie make them go rancid.

What to do with almonds?

  • Coarsely chop toasted or untoasted almonds and sprinkle over salads or stir-fries or stir into yoghurt, muesli or porridge.
  • Have a handful of almonds as a quick power snack.
  • If you like to snack on fruit, combine with almonds to provide the protein you need to balance blood sugar levels.
  • Make an open sandwich with almond butter, topped with banana slices.
  • Snack on celery sticks or thin apple slices spread with almond butter.
  • Use almond butter instead of cream in cooking – it’s great to thicken sauces, very creamy and very yummy.
  • Make milk shakes using almond milk.
  • Use ground almonds to replace all or some of the flour in baking. As ground almonds are heavier than flour, make sure to increase your raising agent (baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, yeast).

A blog on how to make your own almond butter is coming up soon.

Make sure to get tomorrow's Nutrilicious News for another quick almond snack recipe and a divine gluten-free and easy to bake Almond and Orange Cake!