(August, 2015) Almonds are considered one of the healthiest foods on the planet. But, if you read between the lines, there are many disconcerting facts about them:
- All almonds in the US are pasteurized, which destroys nutrients
- Raw almonds contain anti-nutrients that tie up minerals and/or alter proteins
- Roasted almonds are heated in unhealthy (pro-inflammatory), refined oils
- Flavored almonds are coated with sugar or poor-quality table salt
- Blanching removes the skin and healthy flavonoid antioxidants
- Commercial almond milk contains only 2% almonds
- Eating excessive amounts of nuts can lead to weight gain
Knowing this, it’s hard to believe almonds are so highly regarded. The problem is, they’ve made junk food out of goodness once again. Sugar-coating may get kids and adults to eat healthy, but that line of reasoning is kind of nutty, from a health perspective. Indeed, there are several notable problems with eating almonds, whether raw, toasted, slivered, salted, sugar-coated, flavored, buttered, or as milk.
Almonds are nutritional powerhouses, packed with fiber, minerals, biotin, vitamin E, antioxidants and healthy fats. It’s one of those high-fat foods that’s good for you, unlike most of the processed, factory-farm junk that dominates most food stores and vending machines. Yet, in the hands of food technologists and grocery manufacturers, almonds are inching closer to the junk pile.
Almonds are a favorite among nut eaters, largely because of their health benefits and versatility, not to mention flavor. Nuts have been linked to cardiovascular health, lower mortality and brain health. Five large human epidemiological studies have linked nuts to a lower risk for heart disease. Substituting nuts for carbs or bad fat (from fried foods, trans fats like margarine, or factory-farm eggs, meat and dairy) can improve cholesterol health and cut the risk of heart disease. As part of a low-glycemic diet, almonds not only help decrease blood sugar, but also reduce the oxidative damage caused by sugar. Plus, almond’s minerals and vitamins help boost metabolism and energy. The mono-unsaturated fats in almonds–similar to olive oil–also help with weight management. Remember, it’s sugar and carbs, not fat, that caused the obesity epidemic. Granted, eating too many nuts could contribute to weight gain. Keep it down to a handful or two daily.
Whole, raw almonds with skins provide the greatest health benefits. Twenty flavonoid antioxidants are found in the skin, including catechins (like in green tea) and naringenin (like in grapefruit). These antioxidants are anti-inflammatory, help prevent urinary tract infections, and extend longevity. One serving provides almost half the daily need for vitamin E, an important antioxidant that protects against environmental toxins, cataracts, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes. Antioxidant synergy (flavonoids and vitamin E) from almonds keeps LDL-cholesterol from oxidizing (going rancid), which is linked strongly to heart disease. It’s hard to find a better food source of vitamin E.
In 2007 it became illegal to sell raw almonds in the US, unless growers can show that their manufacturing process keeps the bacterial count low. Back in 2001, they traced an outbreak of Salmonella poisoning to a California almond grower. When the Salmonella problem re-occurred from an entirely different grower, the Feds drafted legislation for a mandatory pasteurization program, either by exposure to steam to near boiling, or to toxic, propylene oxide gas (not allowed in certified organic almonds). Some argue that these antimicrobial measures are essential to prevent further outbreaks. Unfortunately, they result in nutrient loss, toxic residues, and unduly penalizes organic growers and those who use good manufacturing practices. The government punishes all growers for the sins of a few bad apples. The Salmonella contamination is likely from non-sustainable, inappropriate, cost-cutting, corporate practices. Nevertheless, raw almonds are sold at local markets in limited quantities, and from responsible growers, so they are available.
The problem is that almonds come loaded with anti-nutrients, even the healthy organic ones. Phytates and oxalates in almonds are at high levels. Oxalates can crystallize in the kidneys or gallbladder, interfere with calcium absorption, and cause health problems. All nuts contain phytates, which bind to several minerals (like zinc, iron, magnesium, calcium, chromium, manganese) and reduce their bioavailability, leading to mineral deficiencies. Reduce phytates by soaking, sprouting, fermenting, and roasting. Read more about this in my blog, “Fight the Phytate” (https://thescienceofnutritiondotnet.wordpress.com/2012/12/07/fight-the-phytate-reducing-anti-nutrients-in-food/)
Take the time to prepare almonds, at least by soaking them overnight in water to remove some of the anti-nutrients. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar in the soak to keep microbes from growing. Sprouting them one or two days further helps remove anti-nutrients, and super-charges the healthy stuff. Since almonds lose their flavor after soaking, it helps to dehydrate or dry roast them. Dry roasting is much preferred, since the oils used commercially are usually of poor quality (e.g., soy, canola) and harmful to your health, while high heat destroys nutrients. Coconut oil is preferred. Add sea salt to taste before drying.
Commercial almond milk contains almost no almonds and may contain other questionable ingredients. That’s what inspired me to write this blog, but also to start making my own almond milk (which I still do; Sep 2017). Commercial almond milk is essentially water, sweetener and a handful of almonds. Making your own is less costly and not too much trouble. Mine is much tastier, and I’m comforted in knowing what’s in it. Many recipes can be found online. To one cup of overnight-soaked and rinsed organic raw almonds, I added vanilla, cinnamon, sea salt and 3.5 cups of fresh water. I blended and strained them (twice) to remove the pulp. After squeezing out the excess milk, I dry roasted the pulp on low heat to make almond meal. It has a nice roasted almond flavor, a long shelf life, and embellishes a variety of foods, such as cereal, pancakes and salads. The milk concentrate was frozen in ice cube trays, and reconstituted as needed. It has more calories than commercial almond milk, but each tasty calorie is healthy for you, and actually promotes weight loss. Throw in a little sweetener if you must, but use raw honey, real maple syrup, a sugar alcohol, stevia, or something that’s not sugar, corn syrup or aspartame. Use it within a few days.
Home-made almond milk is preferred over soy milk, which comes from genetically modified, pesticide-sprayed soybeans, known for being hormone disrupters. Thousands of studies have tied unfermented soy to digestive, immune, thyroid, cognitive and reproductive disorders, not to mention cancer and heart disease. Only organic, fermented soy has health benefits. There’s also nothing particularly healthy about rice milk, and it’s often riddled with high levels of arsenic.
In contrast, coconut milk is loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and lauric acid, which has special antimicrobial properties. Coconut milk is a great energy booster, and weight loss promoter. Add coconut to your almond milk recipe for added value and flavor. Raw Milk is another great option. It’s loaded with friendly bacteria, digestive enzymes, growth factors, and immune-boosting antibodies. Grass-fed, organic milk is another option. Like raw milk, it is rich in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) to fight cancer and boost metabolism, as well as beneficial fats and high-quality protein. It is also loaded with bioavailable vitamins and minerals, including half the daily need for iodine, vital for energy, and to prevent retardation in babies. To add richness to your almond milk, combine it with grass-fed cow’s milk or coconut milk, whether in cereal, tea or coffee. If you can find milk from brown (A2) cows, all the better. The black & white Holstein (A1) cows have a toxic protein in their casein, which is why many people are allergic to milk. The kind without allergy issues is called a2 milk, and it’s coming our way.
The secret to health is in what you feed your body. There are no short cuts.