There is no doubt that almonds were once one of the healthiest foods on Earth; there are many health benefits of almonds. But before you buy almonds today, here is something you should know: most of the almonds sold in the U.S. have been fumigated with propylene oxide, a chemical that even the CDC has admitted causes cancer.
In 2007, it became illegal for raw almonds to be sold in the U.S. What brought about this law was an outbreak of Salmonella in Canada that was traced back to an almond grower in California. The California Department of Health Services stepped in to help this grower increase the safety of his almonds, and that appeared to be the end of it.
But a second surprising outbreak of Salmonella occurred shortly after, and several government agencies got together to mandate treatment so there would be no more Salmonella outbreaks. If you are thinking how strange it is that Salmonella would occur in something as dry as almonds, you are not alone.
To achieve a dramatic reduction of salmonella, almonds had to be treated in one of two ways:
- Exposure to heat sufficient to raise the temperature to 200 degrees
- Insertion of the kernels into a closed chamber to be fumigated with propylene oxide gas
This all happened very quickly, and many small and mid sized almond growers were pushed out of business by the cost of compliance. The result is that the once-thriving almond industry made up of many small growers has been diverted to big corporate almond producers.
As it played out, almonds sold as ‘organic’ are generally treated with the heat process to achieve a kernel temperature of 200 degrees. Those not labeled as ‘organic’ are fumigated with propylene oxide gas, as a general rule.
This means that all almonds sold in the U.S. have been treated in one of these ways and thus have lost much of their life-enhancing properties. The only potential exceptions are almonds shipped from another country, and almonds sold in small amounts directly from the grower at local markets or roadside stands.
Read: 9+ Studies Showcase Almond’s Benefits on Heart Health
The Danger of Propylene Oxide
Propylene oxide (PPO) is banned in Mexico, Canada, and all of the E.U. In the U.S., it has been banned by both the American Motorcycle and the National Hot Rod Associations, where it had been used as fuel before the dangers of its noxious fumes became apparent.
Propylene oxide is classified as hazardous to health under the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, for its acute toxicity, ability to cause irritation, and its mutagenic and carcinogenic properties.
Which Almond Brand is Best? Research Shows…
Food Identity Theft did some research on popular brands of almonds sold both in stores and online. They found that:
- Costco’s Kirkland Signature chocolate-covered almonds as well as their whole almonds are fumigated with PPO.
- Planter’s brand almonds (now owned by Kraft Foods) are heat treated.
- Diamond of California almonds are treated with PPO fumigation.
- Blue Diamond almonds vary. Sliced and slivered almonds are heat treated, while their whole-nut ‘natural’ line is treated with PPO. Some other Blue Diamond products containing almonds may use steam-treated almonds.
- Whole Foods Market 365 brand is a question. There is an organic 365 line that is almost certainly heat treated, and a conventional 365 line that may or may not be.
- Back to Nature almonds are heat treated.
- Superior Nut Company almonds are gassed with PPO, with the exception of their organic almonds sold online, which may be imported and not even subject to being heated to a temperature of 200.
- Trader Joe’s says all the almonds sold under the their name are heat treated.
There are many other nut companies whose treatment choice is unknown, and there is no way to know how almonds used as an ingredient in other products were treated.
What we Have Lost
The stringent standards now in place for almonds may protect a few people from salmonella, but it guarantees chemical toxicity for the all the millions of people eating almonds treated with PPO. The treatment imperative for almonds is a tragedy in light of the many health benefits they offer, including:
- Lowering total cholesterol and improving LDL to HDL ratio
- Protection against diabetes, cardiovascular disease, weight gain and obesity
- Stability of blood sugar levels and prevention of hypoglycemia
- Provision of high amounts of magnesium, the mineral in which many Americans are deficient
- Improvement of digestive health through prebiotic action that encourages beneficial gut flora to flourish
- Abundance of trace minerals that are essential co-factors for production of superoxide dismutase (SOD) a powerful antioxidant made in the mitochondria
- B vitamins necessary for recycling glutathione, another antioxidant made in the body
The bottom line? Reasons that made the almond a premiere nut may no longer exist. Maybe it’s time to get to know other nuts that have not yet felt the heavy hand of government. (Here are some health benefits of pistachios!)