By Joe Leech, Dietitian Authority Nutrition
Almonds are an incredibly popular tree nut.
Despite being high in fat, they are highly nutritious and extremely healthy.
Here are 9 evidence-based health benefits of almonds.
1. Almonds Deliver a Massive Amount of Nutrients
The almond is the edible seed that grows on the tree Prunus dulcis, more commonly called the almond tree.
Almonds are native to the Middle East, but the United States is now the world’s largest producer.
The almonds we buy at the store have usually had the shell removed, revealing the edible nut inside.
They are sold either raw (often referred to as “natural”) or roasted.
This is what almonds look like:
Almonds boast an incredibly impressive nutrient profile.
A 1 ounce (28 grams, or small handful) serving of almonds contains (1):
- Fiber: 3.5 grams.
- Protein: 6 grams.
- Fat: 14 grams (9 of which are monounsaturated).
- Vitamin E: 37% of the RDA.
- Manganese: 32% of the RDA.
- Magnesium: 20% of the RDA.
They also contain a decent amount of copper, vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and phosphorus.
This is all from a small handful, which supplies only 161 calories and 2.5 grams of digestible carbohydrates.
It is also important to note that 10-15% of an almond’s calories are not absorbed by the body, because the fat is too difficult to access and break down (2, 3).
Almonds are also high in phytic acid, a substance that binds certain minerals and prevents them from being absorbed. This means that the amount of iron, zinc and calcium you get from the almonds will be reduced somewhat.
Bottom Line: The almond is a very popular tree nut. Almonds are high in healthy monounsaturated fats, fiber, protein and various important nutrients.
2. Almonds Are Loaded With Antioxidants
Almonds are a fantastic source of antioxidants.
Antioxidants help to protect against oxidative stress, which can damage molecules in cells and contribute to aging and diseases like cancer (4, 5).
The powerful antioxidants in almonds are largely concentrated in the brown layer of the skin (6, 7, 8).
For this reason, blanched almonds (skin removed) are not the best choice from a health perspective.
A clinical trial of 60 male smokers found that 84 grams (about 3 ounces) of almonds per day reduced oxidative stress biomarkers by 23-34%, over a 4 week period (9).
These findings support those of another study, which found that eating almonds with main meals reduced some markers of oxidative damage (10).
Bottom Line: Almonds are high in antioxidants that can protect your cells from oxidative damage, a major contributor to ageing and disease.
3. Almonds Are High in Vitamin E, Which Protects Your Cell Membranes From Damage
Vitamin E is the name for a group of fat soluble antioxidants.
These antioxidants tend to build up in cell membranes in the body, protecting the cells from oxidative damage.
Almonds are among the world’s best sources of vitamin E, with just one ounce providing 37% of the recommended daily intake (1).
Several studies have linked higher vitamin E intake with lower rates of heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease (11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16).
Bottom Line: Almonds are among the world’s best sources of vitamin E. Getting plenty of vitamin E from foods is linked to numerous health benefits.
4. Almonds Can Assist With Blood Sugar Control
Nuts are low in carbs, but high in healthy fats, protein and fiber.
This makes them a perfect choice for diabetics.
However, another thing that sets almonds apart, is their remarkably high amount of magnesium.
Magnesium is a mineral involved in more than 300 bodily processes, including blood sugar control (17).
The current recommended intake for magnesium is 310-420 mg. Two ounces of almonds provide almost half of that, with 150 mg of this important mineral (1).
It turns out that 25-38% of type 2 diabetics are deficient in magnesium, and correcting the deficiency significantly lowers blood sugar levels and improves the function of insulin (18, 19, 20).
Interestingly, people without diabetes also see major reductions in insulin resistance when supplementing with magnesium (21, 22).
This indicates that high magnesium foods (like almonds) may be beneficial for prevention of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes, both of which are massive health problems today.
Bottom Line: Almonds are extremely high in magnesium, a mineral that most people don’t get enough of. High magnesium intake may have major benefits for metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.
5. Magnesium Also Has Benefits For Blood Pressure Levels
The magnesium in almonds may also help to lower blood pressure levels.
High blood pressure (hypertension) is one of the leading drivers of heart attacks, strokes and kidney failure.
A deficiency in magnesium is strongly linked to blood pressure problems, regardless of whether you are overweight or not (23, 24, 25).
Studies have shown that correcting a magnesium deficiency can lead to major reductions in blood pressure (26, 27).
Given that the majority of US adults do not meet the dietary recommendations for magnesium, the addition of almonds to the diet could have a huge impact.
Bottom Line: Low magnesium levels are strongly linked to high blood pressure, indicating that almonds can be beneficial for blood pressure control.
6. Almonds Can Lower Cholesterol Levels
Having high levels of LDL lipoproteins (the “bad” cholesterol) in the blood is a well-known risk factor for heart disease.
What you eat can have major effects on LDL levels, and some studies have shown almonds to be effective.
A 16-week study in 65 pre-diabetic subjects found that a diet with 20% of calories from almonds lowered LDL cholesterol levels by an average of 12.4 mg/dL (28).
Another study found that 1.5 ounces (42 grams) of almonds per day lowered LDL cholesterol by 5.3 mg/dL, while maintaining the “good” HDL cholesterol. The almond group also lost belly fat (29).
Bottom Line: Eating 1-2 handfuls of almonds per day can lead to mild reductions in LDL cholesterol levels.
7. Almonds Prevent Harmful Oxidation of LDL Cholesterol
Almonds do more than just lower LDL levels in the blood.
They also protect the LDL from oxidation, which is a crucial step in the heart disease process.
The skin of almonds is rich in polyphenol antioxidants, which have been shown to prevent oxidation of cholesterol in test tubes and animal studies (30, 31).
The effect may be even stronger when combined with other antioxidants, like vitamin E.
In one human study, snacking on almonds for one month lowered oxidized LDL cholesterol levels by 14% (32).
This should lead to a reduced risk of heart disease over time.
Bottom Line: LDL cholesterol can become oxidized, which is a crucial step in the heart disease process. Snacking on almonds has been shown to significantly reduce oxidized LDL.
8. Eating Almonds Reduces Hunger, Lowering Your Overall Calorie Intake
Almonds are low in carbs, and high in both protein and fiber.
Both protein and fiber are known to increase satiety. They help people feel more full, so they end up eating fewer calories (33, 34).
In a 4-week study with 137 participants, a daily 1.5 ounce (43 grams) serving of almonds significantly reduced hunger and desire to eat (35).
Numerous other studies support the hunger-fighting effects of nuts (36, 37).
Bottom Line: Nuts like almonds are low in carbs, but high in protein and fiber. Studies show that eating almonds (and other nuts) can increase satiety and help you eat fewer calories.
9. Almonds Are Incredibly Effective For Weight Loss
Nuts contain several nutrients that are hard for the body to break down and digest.
About 10-15% of the calories in nuts aren’t absorbed, and there is some evidence that eating nuts can boost metabolism slightly (38).
Combined with the hunger-fighting properties, it makes sense that nuts are a great addition to an effective weight loss diet.
Interestingly, there are some quality human studies that support this.
In one of them, a low-calorie diet with 3 ounces (84 grams) of almonds increased weight loss by 62% compared to a diet enriched with complex carbohydrates (39).
Another study in 100 overweight women found that those consuming almonds lost more weight than those in the nut-free group. They also had improvements in waist circumference and other health markers (40).
So, despite being high in fat, almonds are most definitely a weight loss friendly food.
However, almonds may cause problems for people who are prone to binge eating, as they can be quite “more-ish.”
Take Home Message
Not only are almonds incredibly healthy, they are also crunchy, delicious and require absolutely no preparation.
All things considered, almonds are as close to perfect as a food can get.