Have you ever noticed that an almond looks a lot like a peach pit or seed? It’s because they are closely related. The almond tree actually produces a fruit and the pit of that fruit is, you guessed it, the almond. But, unlike peach pits, almonds are prized for their mild flavor, versatility in cooking and baking, and wonderful health benefits. Perhaps the most widely researched benefit of almonds is their ability to help reduce the risk of heart disease. In fact, there are at least 9 studies showcasing these heart-healthy benefits.
Nuts, like almonds, are a good source of monounsaturated (heart-healthy) fats. It’s believed these play a major role in their ability to protect the heart. One study from the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study indicates that women who eat at least five ounces of nuts each week see their risk of heart disease plummet by 35%.
Another study, this one from Harvard’s School of Public Health, found in 4,000 people that eating nuts at least twice a week could reduce your risk of having a second heart attack by 25%.
There are several mechanisms within the almond that could work to protect your heart; the fats are only part of the equation. In addition, they are loaded with antioxidants, which are known to protect cells from oxidative stress. Almonds are also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can prevent dangerous heart rhythms and heart attacks.
Being high in fiber, almonds can assist in lowering cholesterol as well. Further:
- Plant sterols within can also help lower the “bad” cholesterol.
- The vitamin E contained within can prevent the formation of plaque on the arterial walls.
- Finally, L-arginine can increase artery health, making them less prone to clots.
One study concludes:
“These results suggest that unblanched almonds-whether raw, dry roasted, or in roasted butter form-can play an effective role in cholesterol-lowering, plant-based diets.”
While another study found:
“Almonds used as snacks in the diets of hyperlipidemic subjects significantly reduce coronary heart disease risk factors, probably in part because of the nonfat (protein and fiber) and monounsaturated fatty acid components of the nut.”
Raw almonds are best. But, don’t think for a moment that almonds have to be boring and eaten plain. Throw them in with some steel cut oats for a hot breakfast, or add them to dried cranberries and seeds for an on-the-go trail mix. You can even learn how to make your own almond milk—an excellent alternative to dairy that provides many of the same benefits as whole almonds.