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Almonds in Full Bloom
Almond blooms are gracing the landscape of the Central Valley of California a little early this year, so we had to put you on notice 10 days in advance of a very important day. No, it’s not Valentine’s Day. Two days after the love-or-hate holiday, on February 16th, it’s National Almond Day. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports a 20% increase in nut consumption in the U.S. between 2009 and 2010. The most popular, shall I say, queen of tree nuts is almonds. Celebrating the almond is fitting as February is also Heart Health month. In fact, a review of research on tree nuts found people who had a high intake of nuts reduced risk of coronary heart disease by about 35% and showed favorable reductions in total and LDL cholesterol levels. Nuts may get a bad rap for being energy dense and high in fat, but they have proven health benefits beyond being heart-healthy.
The Award Goes To…
With all the awards being divvied out in Hollywood this month, we must shine a light on the rarely praised nut we know and love. According to the USDA, the average American consumes 1.6 pounds of almonds a year which is equivalent to 24 one-ounce servings. A typical one ounce serving of almonds, or about 24 almonds if you’re counting, packs 163 calories, 14 grams of fat, of which only 1 gram is saturated fat. It stands as the most fibrous tree nut, at and 3.5 grams of fiber per ounce, and has the highest concentration of Vitamin E, which explains why almond oil is touted as part of a healthy skin, nails, and hair regimen. Additional nutrients found in almonds include magnesium, iron, and calcium.
Calories and Weight Gain
When it comes to weight loss, research shows you’re better with peanuts and tree nuts in your diet than without. Despite their high caloric content, a review of research about nut consumption revealed eating nuts results in significantly less-than-expected weight gain. One studied 81 healthy adults who were given 15% of their daily caloric needs in the form of almonds over 6 months. While experts estimated weight gain to be about 14 pounds, participants gained a mere 2 – 10% of what was predicted. A smaller, more recent study compared the weight of a group of overweight women over 10 weeks during almond consumption followed by a 10-week period without almonds. The periods were nearly identical, showing no marked change. But almond buyer-beware. One study found participants who ate large quantities of nuts, marked by 100 grams a day, for 4-weeks did gain weight.
Raw vs. Roasted vs. Steamed?
Should almonds be eaten raw or roasted? The research is inconclusive. One study found almonds roasted at high temperatures can form acrylamide and free radicals, both of which can potentially cause cancer. On the other hand, another study showed that roasted almonds released more nutrients because they were better digested than raw almonds. So you know, a federal law enacted in 2007 by the USDA requires all California almonds be pasteurized. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approved oil roasting, dry roasting, blanching, steam processing and propylene oxide (PPO) processes as acceptable forms of pasteurization for almonds. Organic almonds are most likely steamed. Because 82% of the world’s almonds are grown in California, unless they are imported, chances are even if almonds are labeled raw, they may have been steamed.
How to Snack on Almonds
One thing's certain--these crunchy little nuggets should be a part of a healthy diet. The snack aisle offers numerous ways to munch on them, including raw, dry roasted, candied, salted, and flavors like wasabi, cinnamon, and for all you Valentine’s Day revelers, chocolate-covered. You can get the chocolate taste without the added calories by tossing almonds with cocoa powder, or look for brands that offer them such as Emerald’s Cocoa Roasted Almonds or Planter’s Cocoa and Cinnamon variety. You might consider going the way of almond butter on crackers or in smoothies. In addition to the calorie count, be careful that added sugar, salt, and empty calories added to the already sweet and cute almond isn’t over done. Almonds are just fine in their natural state. Just look at the trees from which they come.
For more information about almonds visit the Almond Board of California here.