Earlier this month, I had the great pleasure of joining the Almond Board of California for an almond orchard tour. Next time I enjoy that almond crunch, I will think back on my time in the orchards where I came to appreciate the many steps taking one of my favorite nuts from the grove to the grocer!
Following is the inside scoop and key learnings from my almond orchard tour.
Almonds spend five months maturing on trees. They must be grown in the right climate – warm and dry – in order to produce well and that’s why California serves as the perfect environment to grow these nuts. In fact, California is home to 80 percent of the world’s almond production. The almonds are harvested in August, at which time they are hulled and shelled. The whole raw almonds are then prepared for shipment to food manufactures who dice, slice, sliver, roast, toast and blanch almonds for various foods and snacks.
New health benefits for almonds keep mounting. Four large prospective epidemiological studies – including the Harvard’s Nurses’ Health Study, the Physician’s Health Study, the Adventist Health Study and the Iowa Women’s Study – all link nuts to lower heart disease risk. Further, the British Journal of Nutrition recently published a study highlighting how consumption of nuts at least four times a week reduces risk of heart disease by 37 percent. The focus on nuts in the Mediterranean, DASH, and Portfolio diets also back the health benefits of these nuts, leading the American Heart Association to include almonds, pistachios and walnuts in their AHA Food Certification program.
What in almonds is cardio-protective? It’s the monounsaturated fats that help lower LDL-cholesterol and keep good HDL cholesterol high. Anti-oxidants, polyphenols, phytonutrients, flavonoids and Vitamin E work synergistically to keep blood vessels more elastic and block LDL oxidation, which hardens arterial plaque. Calcium, magnesium, potassium, fiber, anti-oxidants and arginine content are all responsible for helping to lower blood pressure, dilate blood vessels and enhance blood flow. These nutrients combined with protein and fiber, work together to help control blood sugar. Almonds also have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant components that prevent heart attacks and strokes.
The nutrient-richness of almonds means each almond packs a lot of nutrients that work with 20 or more powerful antioxidants (including flavonoids in almond skins), which synergistically work to confer these multiple benefits. To ensure your heart health while reducing risk of diabetes, eat almonds with other foods at meals or snack time.
Almonds have even been shown to aid weight loss, too! Research suggests, almonds do this in two ways: 1) promoting satiety (long-lasting satisfaction), helping to reduce calorie intake by satisfying hunger; 2) promoting body fat loss. In fact, a study featured in Obesity found those who ate nuts at least twice a week were 31 percent less likely to gain weight over a 28-month period than those who did not eat nuts. Additionally, in a recent weight loss study, smaller waist circumferences were evident among those who included almonds in place of equivalent amounts of carbohydrates in their diets.
Breaking Health News
Almond lovers rejoice! Thanks to new methodology used to measure calorie value, researchers recently confirmed almonds have 30 fewer calories per oz. (23 almonds) than previously thought. Now, for a satisfying snack, almonds are just 130 calories instead of 160 calories per oz.
It’s hard to believe all these health benefits are packed into one little shell! You can try incorporating these special nuts into your day – morning, noon and night. Spread a little almond butter on your toast and sprinkle a handful of almonds on cereal or yogurt. Top your salad with a sprinkling of almond slivers or pop a handful of raw, unsalted almonds for an afternoon snack.
Enjoy the crunch!
For more ideas on heart-healthy eating, check out The Cooper Clinic Solution to the Diet Revolution: Step Up to the Plate (2009). My guidebook of tips makes healthy eating fun and more manageable. Connect with me online at @GeorgiaKostas and Facebook/Georgia Kostas Nutrition and visit:http://www.georgiakostas.com.
This nutrition information does not address individual health conditions. Please consult with your physician or registered dietitian to meet specific health and dietary needs.