(Please bear in mind this is merely my opinion based on personal experiences, research and observations, and I take no responsibility for any misleading information or errors)
Almonds, a humble nut? Sadly not.
A nutritional treasure chest mired in a fierce argument, shrouded in a dilemma. The almond story is far from simple.
Firstly the nutrition. A treasure chest? In a word, yes! The almond is known as the king of nuts for a great many reasons, and the list, based on USDA data is long.
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 2,408 kJ (576 kcal)
Carbohydrates 21.69 g
– Starch 0.74 g
– Sugars 3.89 g
– Lactose 0.00 g
– Dietary fiber 12.2 g
Fat 49.42 g
– saturated 3.731 g
– monounsaturated 30.889 g
– polyunsaturated 12.070 g
Protein 21.22 g
– Tryptophan 0.214 g
– Threonine 0.598 g
– Isoleucine 0.702 g
– Leucine 1.488 g
– Lysine 0.580 g
– Methionine 0.151 g
– Cystine 0.189 g
– Phenylalanine 1.120 g
– Tyrosine 0.452 g
– Valine 0.817 g
– Arginine 2.446 g
– Histidine 0.557 g
– Alanine 1.027 g
– Aspartic acid 2.911 g
– Glutamic acid 6.810 g
– Glycine 1.469 g
– Proline 1.032 g
– Serine 0.948 g
Water 4.70 g
Vitamin A 1 IU
– beta-carotene 1 μg (0%)
– lutein and zeaxanthin 1 μg
Thiamine (vit. B1) 0.211 mg (18%)
Riboflavin (vit. B2) 1.014 mg (85%)
Niacin (vit. B3) 3.385 mg (23%)
Pantothenic acid (B5) 0.469 mg (9%)
Vitamin B6 0.143 mg (11%)
Folate (vit. B9) 50 μg (13%)
Choline 52.1 mg (11%)
Vitamin E 26.2 mg (175%)
Vitamin K 0.0 μg (0%)
Calcium 264 mg (26%)
Iron 3.72 mg (29%)
Magnesium 268 mg (75%)
Manganese 2.285 mg (109%)
Phosphorus 484 mg (69%)
Potassium 705 mg (15%)
Sodium 1 mg (0%)
Zinc 3.08 mg (32%)
Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
But take care, these figures are based on a daily intake of 100g (3.5oz). No-one eats this many almonds. Perhaps 10g, which equates to about a handful of almonds, is a more realistic figure, so please divide everything by 10.
The list is certainly impressive, the highlights being the high levels of Vitamins B2 and E, and also magnesium (essential in every cell of the body), phosphorus (for strong bones and teeth), manganese (essential in many enzymes), and its high protein content (about 15% by weight). In addition there is zero cholesterol.
Detailed articles regarding the multi-benefits of almonds can be found below:
and of course wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almond
For me the most interesting properties of almonds are the ability to reduce low-density cholesterol (the bad cholesterol), and also to help alkalize the body, balancing the modern body which tends to be too acidic.
So are there any demerits? Yes, and this is where the arguments begin.
In the USA almonds have been implicated in some cases of Salmonellosis (salmonella food poisoning). It is not clear how serious these cases were. In the USA there are about 40,000 reported cases of Salmonellis each year, but probably thousands more go unreported. A very few cases may develop arthritis, and for some (usually the weak, elderly or infants) it may be fatal. Probably with this in mind the state of California passed a law stipulating the pasteurization of almonds, thus preventing the risk of Salmonellosis in almonds.
A good move? Not for the nutritional benefits of the almonds. The pasteurization, which may be by means of steam, irradiation, or chemical, gets rid of the Salmonella bacteria, but also gets rid of a great deal of the nutrients. In the words of some it kills the almonds, leaving them bereft of their nutritional treasure chest. Read this article for one side of the argument: http://realfoodforlife.com/almonds-irradiation-pasteurization/
So what? This only affects almonds from California. The USA happens to grow more than half the world’s almonds, and the majority of these are grown in California.
The growers in California are the ones who are arguing. Their carefully nurtured almonds (in many instances organically-grown) are downgraded from the king of nuts to a tasty little morsel before they even enter the packet. And the rest of the world continues to grow and sell nutritious raw almonds.
Nevertheless we cannot simply ignore the Californian legislators, who are often at the vanguard of new and important laws. It is certainly a dilemma. I assume their decisions were taken with the utmost integrity and consideration, and if I had a relative who had died from Salmonellosis contracted from almonds I would surely feel differently, but the rest of the world seems to get along very well without these draconian almond laws. And why single out almonds? Surely tobacco has a lot more to answer for … ?
Incidentally if pasteurization can seriously affect the nutritional benefits of almonds, then surely roasting, baking or any kind of cooking will also have a similar effect.
But there is another demerit, the phylates (enzyme inhibitors). The science gets a little complex, but here is my reading. Phylates are present in almonds for a reason: to prevent sprouting (germination) in adverse conditions, especially in the dry. And these same phylates can also prevent our intestinal enzymes from going about their business, thus making a serious dent in the nutrients that the body can extract from ingested almonds.
To get around this we can stimulate sprouting by soaking the almonds in water. This nullifies the effect of the phylates, effectively ‘drawing their sting’. But we don’t want to go too far and grow another almond tree, merely starting the germination process is enough. It is estimated that a 10/12 hour soak (overnight perhaps) is about right to trigger germination whilst being a minimal drain on the almond’s nutrients.
The almond story is not a straightforward one.
So, what to do? This is my gameplan:
- purchase raw almonds which have not been grown in the USA.
- soak a handful of almonds overnight.
- eat a handful of almonds most days (I will probably add them to my breakfast muesli).
- not eat almonds when I am feeling unwell.