Almonds Are a Superfood Too

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Did you know ... the traditional wedding favor of five candied almonds originated in Italy in the 1350s? They represent the five attributes of a happy marriage; health, wealth, happiness, fertility and longevity.

Almonds are the seeds of a fruit tree that is a relative of the rose family. Most commercially grown almond trees are grafted to the stumps of peach trees (rootstock), making them more resistant to pests. Prunus dulcis, meaning "sweet almond", is the commonly consumed version of almonds. "Bitter" almond contains a toxic chemical called hydrocyanic acid that can be deadly to humans if eaten raw. When heated, this chemical is destroyed, making the bitter almond safe to consume. Sweet almonds, the most consumed tree nuts in the United States, comprise 62 per cent of the nut market.

Almonds originated in central Asia and have been cultivated in the Mediterranean since biblical times. The Bible spoke of Aaron's rod that blossomed and bore almonds, using them as a symbol to represent divine approval by God. The almond also symbolized virginity and was often used as a marriage blessing. The Egyptians left almonds in King Tut's tomb to provide nourishment to him in the afterlife. In 1700, Franciscan padres brought the almond tree to California from Spain. By the turn of the twentieth century, the almond industry was firmly established in the Sacramento and San Joaquin areas of California.

Where Do Almonds Come From

The United States provides 88 per cent of worldwide almond production with California growing the bulk of the U.S. supply. They are also grown in Spain, Turkey, Greece and Italy.

Why Should I Eat Them?

A small handful of almonds (about 23 almonds) contains 160 calories and is a good source of protein and fiber. This same amount supplies 35 per cent of the daily value (DV) for vitamin E and 20 per cent DV of magnesium, and is a good source of calcium and iron. Almonds contain a variety of antioxidants including the flavonoids quercetin and kaempferol, which may prevent cancer cell growth and oxidation of LDL ("bad") cholesterol, attributed to increased risk of heart disease.

Almonds have been used in hopes of curing cancer, ulcers and corns, and reducing symptoms associated with consuming too much alcohol.

Heart Health: A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (A/CN) showed that eating a combination of heart-healthy foods that includes almonds can help reduce LDL or "bad" cholesterol levels as much as a first-line statin drug.

Loma Linda University was the first to demonstrate that eating almonds raises vitamin E levels in the bloodstream. Participants who ate almonds reduced their total cholesterol by 5 per cent and lowered their LDL or "bad" cholesterol by nearly 7 per cent.

In 2003, the Food and Drug Administration approved a limited health claim for almonds saying that consuming them may reduce the risk of heart disease. Dr David Jenkins of the University of Toronto found that eating a healthy diet that included almonds reduced inflammation by about the same level as taking Lovastatin, a popular statin drug for fighting heart disease. The almond-rich diet not only lowered cholesterol but it also lowered C-reactive protein, a leading marker of inflammation and an independent risk factor for heart disease.

Alzheimer's: Mice with an Alzheimer's-like disease were fed an almond-rich diet. After four months, those animals who ate the almond-rich diet did much better on memory tests than those fed the usual food. The diet also reduced the number of Alzheimer deposits in the rodent brains.

Colon Cancer: A study from the University of California, Davis, found that almonds had a significant effect on the prevention of colon cancer in rats.

Tips on Using Almonds

Consumer, beware! Make sure you are buying "the real McCoy". Many imported almonds are not almonds at all - they're apricot kernels They may look similar but the taste and health benefits of real almonds are second to none.

Look for almonds in the shell that don't rattle when you shake them. Rattling may be a sign that the almonds are old.

Fresh almonds are white throughout. One that is yellow or has a honeycomb look to it may mean the nut has turned rancid.

Green almonds are available for three weeks in the spring. They have a fuzzy green hull and a jellylike centre. They are great on a salad or plain with a dash of sea salt.

Look in the baking aisle, the snack aisle and the grocery section of the supermarket for many types of almonds. Look for snack packs of whole almonds, or other on-the-go containers. Choose slivered, sliced, chopped or ground almonds to use in recipes.

Store in a cool, dry, dark place.

Unopened, containers of almonds can be kept in the refrigerator or a cool pantry for up to two years. Once opened, they should be kept in an airtight container and consumed within three months.

Preparation And Serving Suggestions:

  • Roasting almonds before serving them brings out their rich flavor.
  • Sprinkle sliced almonds on granola, cold cereal or yogurt for breakfast or for a healthy anytime snack.
  • Spread almond butter on an English muffin or toast. Almond butter, sold by the jar, is available next to peanut butter, jams and preserves at some supermarkets and health food shops.
  • Use almond milk in breakfast smoothies or on cereal. You'll find it in an un-refrigerated box next to the soy milk section at the supermarket.
  • Munch on some almond trail mix or snack mix.
  • Roast whole almonds with kosher salt and a variety of herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, curry powder, cumin, cinnamon or cardamom for some kick.
  • Add slivered almonds to rice, couscous, other grain dishes and pasta.
  • Use ground almond meat for a healthy "breading" for fish or poultry.

Michelle is an established nutritional consultant and has been writing articles to help people protect and enhance their health for nearly 4 years now. Michelle has also discovered that nutrition plays a key role in many health problems and the right nutrition can help with conditions like lower back pain and provide some much needed back pain relief.

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