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Almond Joy: How this tasty nut helps to IMPROVE your mood and heart function

Almond Joy: How this tasty nut helps to IMPROVE your mood and heart function

Almonds make an enjoyable snack with their delicate, pleasing taste and satisfyingly crunchy consistency.  But there’s more to these nutritious tree nuts than their culinary appeal.  Recent research supports the ability of almonds to brighten mood, lower the risk of depression, and even fight cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

In addition to promoting heart health and a positive outlook, almonds can help support a healthy weight.  Stronger bones and reduced blood pressure are other potential “perks” of nibbling on almonds.  Let’s look closer at the health-sustaining qualities of these tasty little nutrition packets.

Almonds may help banish the “blues

The Mediterranean diet, acknowledged by researchers for supporting healthy brain function and reducing the risk of life-threatening chronic diseases, is already rich in tree nuts.  However, researchers in one study took it a step further by enhancing the Mediterranean diet with an additional 30 grams a day of mixed nuts, including almonds.  They found that this almond-enhanced diet lowered the risk of depression by an astounding 40 percent in patients with type 2 diabetes.

Almonds are packed with minerals – including selenium, copper, manganese, and zinc - important to mental health.  (In fact, deficiencies in selenium and zinc have been linked in studies with higher rates of depression – so it’s important to stay “topped up” on these essential minerals).  Almonds are also packed with tryptophan, an amino acid needed for the production of serotonin, a mood-boosting neurotransmitter.  Finally, they are an excellent source of magnesium, which can promote a calm, stable mood.

Almonds fight heart disease and type 2 diabetes

Almonds have plenty to offer when it comes to preventing cardiovascular disease.  Multiple studies have shown that a mere handful of almonds a day can reduce blood pressure, increase disease-fighting antioxidants in the bloodstream, and improve blood flow.

A 2018 review published in Nutrients concludes that almonds help lower harmful LDL cholesterol - a known risk factor for heart disease - while supporting healthy levels of desirable HDL cholesterol.  While physicians often recommend pharmaceutical drugs to manage cholesterol, the authors praised nutritional interventions (such as almonds) as a “safer option.”

Wait - there’s more.  Almonds are also high in magnesium - which helps regulate heartbeat - and vitamin E, which protects against atherosclerosis.

Almonds may also help discourage the development of type 2 diabetes.  One study showed that 60 grams of almonds a day for 12 weeks improved blood sugar levels.

Almonds are loaded with vital nutrients

While it’s true that almonds are high in fat, research has shown that most of the fatty acids in almonds are of the heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated variety.  In fact, out of the 14 grams of fat in an ounce (about a handful) of almonds, nine grams consist of monounsaturated fats.  Almonds are also protein-rich, with an ounce containing one-eighth of the recommended daily intake.

But almonds really shine in their antioxidant content, vitamin E.  An ounce of almonds contains 7.27 mg - half the recommended daily intake.  This important micronutrient can help stop the accumulation of artery-clogging cholesterol, thereby reducing the risk of atherosclerosis.

Other beneficial vitamins in almonds include riboflavin, niacin, and thiamine.  (In fact, almonds’ B vitamins and protein content make them a wise choice for vegans and vegetarians).  Essential almond minerals include bone-building calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, copper, iron, and immune system-boosting zinc.

By the way, almonds are 164 calories an ounce - a very reasonable amount, considering the valuable micronutrients, healthy fats, and protein they provide.  Fiber-rich almonds may even help fight obesity.  Eating 42 grams (about one and a half ounces) as a mid-morning snack has been shown to reduce appetite for the rest of the day, helping control binge eating and food cravings.

It’s easy to add almonds to your daily diet

This versatile nut can be used in homemade power bars and blondies, while almond flour can enrich pancakes and waffles.  You can also mix crispy slivered almonds into salads or crush them to use as a flavorful coating for flounder and other fish.

Of course, you can always take the simplest route and enjoy almonds out of hand.  For maximum benefit, many natural health experts advise eating around 45 grams of roasted or raw almonds a day.

What about almond milk?

While this smooth tasting drink is a healthful alternative to cow’s milk, it contains much smaller quantities of nutrients and fiber than are found in whole almonds and may not have the same protective qualities.

Of course, if you are allergic to nuts, almonds are taboo.  They should be avoided by anyone who has difficulty swallowing, including very young children and older adults with dementia or Parkinson’s disease.

Not only do almonds promote physical and emotional well-being, but they are a delicious and convenient snack and a welcome addition to many recipes.  Maybe it’s time to add a little “almond joy” to your daily diet.

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