The almond nut is actually the seed of the fruit of the almond tree, a small deciduous tree that bears fragrant pink and white flowers. Like its relatives, the apricot, cherry, peach and plum trees, the almond tree bears fruits with stone-like seeds (or pits) within.
A native of South Western Asia, the almond tree was harvested for for food in the Near East as early as 3000 BC. The Romans showered newlyweds with them for fertility and archaeologists even discovered almonds in the tomb of Tutankhamen. Conveyed along the Silk Route, today the almond tree flourishes throughout the Mediterranean and even as far north as the British Isles. The primary world producers of almonds include Greece, Iran, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Syria, Turkey, and the United States.
The Super Snack
Though roasted and salted almonds make a savory airline snack and the chocolate covered variety are a special treat, raw unprocessed almonds are highest in nutritional value and free of added fats and salt.
The array of essential nutrients packaged neatly by nature into almonds provide amazing health benefits. Studies show that almonds significantly lowered cholesterol levels in those with elevated levels. Other benefits include improved complexion, maintaining eye sight and shiny, youthful hair.
A handful of almonds are an excellent source of vitamin E and magnesium, a good source of protein and fiber and offer heart healthy monounsaturated fats, potassium, calcium, phosphorus and iron.
According to research sun exposure can deplete vitamin E from the skin, making it more vulnerable to sun damage. This is why vitamin E is used in many skin care products.
Vitamin E is an important antioxidant that boosts the immune system, protects cell membranes and helps the body make red blood cells.
Almonds contain antioxidant levels as high as tea and broccoli (good news for fussy eaters). Antioxidants deactivate free radicals which are elements in the body that can damage and destroy cells and lead to everything from skin aging to cancer, heart disease and stroke.
A half cup serving of almonds also provides more than 500 mg of potassium, (more than is in a whole banana), about 3 mg of iron and 10 grams of fiber. A cup of almonds has 400 mg of calcium- thats more than is in a cup of milk! Along with calcium, almonds also contain magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus – all minerals that are indispensable for building and maintaining healthy bone density.
Need another reason to add almonds to your diet? A serving of almonds also contains 5% of the necessary daily intake of zinc, a mineral that boosts the immune system, aids in wound healing and is involved in protein metabolism. Zinc is also important in the development of the reproductive system.
The almond itself contains almost no carbohydrates making it an ideal replacement for flour in cakes and biscuits for individuals with diabetes or on other low carbohydrate diets.
The dried kernal of the sweet almond tree contains a fixed oil and emulsion. Almond oil was a popular in traditional remedies for internal use in ailments such as constipation and inflammatory bowel disease. Today, almond oil is used in cooking, in aromatherapy and in massage oils.
Nutrients in Almonds:
- Vitamin E – Almonds are an excellent source of vitamin E which decreases the risk for certain forms of cancer, heart disease and cataracts.
- Folic Acid – Almonds contain folic acid, animportant B-vitamin which can reduce the risk for birth defects and is necessary for making red blood cells. It also helps protect against heart disease and stroke.
- Protein – Almonds contain protein which is required for healthy muscles and organs and provides energy.
- Iron – Almonds contains iron which helps carry oxygen to all of the body’s cells and organs.
- Zinc – An ounce of almonds contains 6% of the recommended daily requirements of zinc, which aids in wound healing and is involved in protein metabolism. Zinc is also important in the development of the reproductive system.
- Phosphorous – Almonds are a good source of phosphorous which is the second most abundant mineral in the body. Phosphorus is necessary for healthy bones and teeth, and helps the body use protein, fat and carbohydrates.