Almond Nutrition

Almonds (Amygdalus communis L.). are mainly grown in California (80% of the world’s supply) (Deng, Ruan, Mok, Huang, Lin, & Chen, 2007) and there are 1.7trillion metric tonnes produced per year (Mandalari, Nueno-Palop, Bisignano, Wickham, & Nrabad, 2008). Almonds are 50% fat, 22-25% protein, and 11-12% fibre (Mandalari et al., 2008). Almonds are a good source of nutrients, including vitamin E, calcium, phosphorous, and potassium (Bernat, Cháfer, Chiralt, & González-Martínez, 2015), as well as copper (Kamil & Chen, 2012). They also contain non-nutrient bioactive compounds that can have a beneficial effect on health, including antioxidants such as flavonoids. Almonds help to stimulate the growth of prebiotics, which can reduce the number of harmful bacteria in the gut, leading to a reduced risk of bacterial infection.

Fats

While almonds do have high levels of fat (50% of their content) (Mandalari et al., 2008), they contain “good” fats (mono- and poly-unsaturated), which are associated with better health outcomes. For instance, When a group of men and women replaced half of their fat intake with whole almonds or almond oil for six weeks, they had lower levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL) (Blomhoff, Carlsen, Andersen, & Jacobs, 2006). High levels LDL cholesterol causes arterial damage which can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (Sniderman, Williams, Contois, Monroe, McQueen, de Graff, & Furberg, 2011). Further, in a longitudinal study, increased consumption of nut butters (including almond) was associated with a lower chance of dying from coronary heart disease (Blomhoff et al., 2006).

Protein

Protein (derived from amino acids) provides structure to the muscles and other bodily tissues. It can also be used as a source of energy (but less so than carbohydrates and fats) and is involved in hemoglobin, enzyme, and hormone production (Hoffman & Falvo, 2004). Almonds can be considered a complete protein as they contain all nine essential amino acids (Ezeokonkwo & Dodson, 2004), so they are a good plant-based protein source.

Vitamin E

Almonds are a source of vitamin E, which is primarily an antioxidant. Antioxidants have the ability to scavenge oxidative free radicals, which prevents these free radicals from causing damage or mutating cells (Azzi & Stocker, 2000). This damage can lead to disorders that are associated with ageing and could prevent some chronic diseases, as well as cancer (Sies, 1993). Vitamin E, however, has been found to be protective against cardiovascular diseases, which other antioxidants are not, which suggests that vitamin E may have health benefits beyond it being an antioxidant (Brigelius-Flohè & Traber, 1999).

Calcium, phosphorous, potassium, and copper

Almonds can provide a plant-based source of calcium, which is important for bone health and development. Being deficient in calcium can lead to rickets in children, osteomalacia (bone pain) in adults, and osteoporosis (bone fragility) in older women (Power, Heaney, Kalkwarf, Pitkin, Repke, Tsang, & Schulkin, 1999). Phosphorous is also important for bone health, as well as lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease and lowering blood pressure (Takeda, Yamamoto, Yamanaka-Okumuha, & Taketani, 2012). A diet high in potassium and low in sodium can also help to lower blood pressure, and having such a diet from a young age can protect against high blood pressure in later life (McDonough & Youn, 2017).

Copper is another nutrient that is needed for optimum bone health. Copper deficiency is common in infants (especially premature infants because they need much more of it) and this can lead to bone malformation, increased risk of later osteoporosis, poor melanin production, lessened immune response, poor cardiovascular health, and changes to the metabolism of cholesterol (de Romaña, Olivares, Uauy & Araya, 2011).

Taken together, calcium, phosphorous, potassium, and copper provide lower the risk of high blood pressure and help to maintain bone health. Almonds, therefore, can be an important food source to provide protection in these areas.

Flavonoids

Almonds contain the antioxidant flavonoids. These work together with vitamin E, and other bioactive compounds, to enhance resistance to LDL oxidation (Blomhoff et al., 2006). The oxidation of LDL is related to a higher risk of atherosclerosis (the build-up of fat in the arteries) (Nakano, Williamson, Williams & Powers, 2004). This process is mediated by copper (Blomhoff 1t 1l., 2006; Nakano et al., 2004). That almonds contain flavonoids, vitamin E, and copper suggest that they can be an important food source for lowering the risk of atherosclerosis.

Almonds as a prebiotic stimulant

Almonds stimulate the growth of prebiotics (but only when the fat content is retained) (Mandelari et al., 2008). The gut is full of microorganisms and it has been proposed that in order to remain healthy, a balance needs to be made between those species of gut bacteria that can provide a health benefit outnumber those species that can cause infection and harm (Roberfroid, Gibson, Hoyles, McCartney, Rastall, Rowland, et al., 2010). Prebiotics stimulate the beneficial gut flora, whilst also inhibiting the growth of pathogenic bacteria. This is achieved through the production of short-chain fatty acids antimicrobial compounds, as well as through providing competition of substrates required for growth and places to which the bacteria can stick (Mandelari et al., 2008). This can prevent digestive problems and can make it impossible for harmful bacteria to grow, thus preventing a bacterial infection taking place (Mandelari et al., 2008; Roberfroid et al., 2010). There is evidence suggesting that prebiotics can also improve immune system functioning, lowering the risk of infection even further (Roberfrois et al., 2010).

Conclusion

Almonds contain several important nutrients, such as fats, proteins, vitamin E, calcium, phosphorous, potassium, and copper, as well as flavonoids. These nutrients together can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, lower the levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL), maintain muscle and tissue growth, support bone health and help to lower blood pressure. They have antioxidant effects due to the interaction of vitamin E, flavonoids, and copper, which can lower the risk of some cancers, atherosclerosis, and chronic diseases associated with ageing. Almonds stimulate the growth of prebiotics in the gut, which can help to reduce the chance of a bacterial infection and other digestive issues.

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