Crunch, crunch, crunch – we love to munch on almonds, especially flavored ones. Yum! We enjoy chomping on almonds for health reasons, mostly as an alternative to chips and other processed fare.
Heck, even our two dogs enjoy them. BTW, not all nuts are good for dogs. Macadamia nuts and walnuts are on the list of foods NOT to feed your dogs. In dogs, as few as 4 macadamia nuts can cause vomiting, partial paralysis, an elevation in temperature and other serious symptoms. Both of these nuts are good for humans, but don’t share them with your canine pals!
Since this article isn’t about what not to feed your dog, let’s move on and look at almonds for health in humans.
Recently, we discovered something about almonds that will change how we buy them – and it might change how you look at them too.
First, let’s look at the positive aspects of munching on almonds. These popular nuts that are the seed of the almond tree have a number of health benefits.
Almonds for Health: The Crunchy Health Benefits of Almonds
Eating a small handful of almonds daily is good medicine. A number of studies support the health benefits of almonds and nuts in general.
Though almonds are high in calories, studies show people who eat nuts regularly are less likely to gain weight. In fact, almonds are rich in monounsaturated fats that help to curb appetite and reduce cravings. Plus, snacking on 22 almonds will only set you back about 160 calories and you get a substantial quantity of nutrients with those calories. Not a bad way to snack!
In addition, munching on almonds may lower your risk for heart disease. The heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, fiber and vitamin E in almonds help to keep your heart healthy by their effects on inflammation. Inflammation within the walls of arteries plays a cardiovascular disease.
Let’s not ignore the other potential health benefits of almonds:
- Research shows nuts lovers have a lower risk of all-cause mortality.
- Crunchy almonds are a good source of calcium, potassium, and magnesium, three minerals that help with blood pressure control.
- Eating a handful of nuts, including almonds, before a meal may reduce the blood glucose and insulin response to that meal.
- Eating a small handful of nuts may curb your appetite so you don’t overeat.
Almonds – antioxidants? Yes! We think of fruits and vegetables as being the ultimate source of free radical fighters, but almonds are an under-appreciated source of cell-protective antioxidants. Most of the antioxidant power of almonds is in the outer skin, so blanched almonds, where the skin is removed, lack some of the health benefits of whole almonds – but as you’ll see, you might want to be picky about the almonds you choose!
Pick Your Almonds Carefully – Here’s Why
Despite the many health benefits of almonds, the way these popular nuts are processed leaves something to be desired. About 8 years ago, it became a requirement that almonds be pasteurized prior to being sold. This change went into effect after a number of people became ill from eating almonds tainted with Salmonella bacteria. As a result, the FDA mandated that almonds grown in the Central Valley of California, where most domestic almonds come from, must be pasteurized.
Nothing wrong with pasteurizing almonds as long as you do it safely. Currently. there are two primary ways almonds are pasteurized prior to being packaged and sent to supermarkets. The safest way is to steam them. Kudos to companies that use this method! Unfortunately, that’s not the way most almond manufacturers do it. Instead, they spray almonds with a chemical called propylene oxide, also known as PPO.
Before going any further, we want you to know that we’re not so “anti-chemical” that we scream “cancer” at any synthetic chemical in a product. Not all synthetic chemicals are toxic, but we ARE concerned about the use of PPO.
What is PPO?
Propylene oxide is used to make polyurethane foams, anti-freeze, herbicides, fuels, hydraulic fluid, and solvents. That doesn’t sound very appetizing but it doesn’t necessarily make it toxic. However, if you visit the Environmental Protective Agency site, you’ll see that PPO has been linked with tumors and inflammation in animal studies.
Just as disturbing is the fact that PPO was used as a fuel by the Motorcycle Racing Association and the National Hot Rod Association and has since been banned due to concerns about its toxicity. The Motorcycle Racing Association says ban it and the FDA says it’s okay? There’s something wrong with that picture.
In addition, PPO is banned by the European Union as well as by several other countries due to concerns about its link with cancer. Yet, we’re lucky enough to have the almonds we eat sprayed with this “questionable” chemical even though there’s an alternative method for pasteurizing almonds – the use of steam.
Are the Almonds You’re Eating Affected?
Unfortunately, the machines used to steam pasteurize almonds is expensive, so most almonds you buy at the supermarket are sprayed with PPO. That includes some of the most popular brands, like our favorite, Blue Diamond. Don’t forget some almond butter is made with almonds sprayed with PPO too. Same goes for those delicious, dark chocolate covered almonds you find at candy stores and grocery stores.
Manufacturers that spray almonds with PPO defend their practice by saying the amount sprayed on the almonds is too low to cause health problems and only trace amounts remain on the almond. Trace amounts add up, especially if you eat almonds frequently like we do. Aren’t we exposed to enough questionable chemicals as it is? Who needs another one?
Almonds and PPO: Are There PPO-free Almonds?
Which are the healthiest almonds to buy? A small number of almond makers use the steam method of pasteurization and that’s the better choice. The good news? If you buy organic almonds, they were pasteurized using steam.
Where it gets tricky is if you’re buying conventionally grown almonds.
Most manufacturers of conventionally grown almonds use the PPO method. Manufacturers don’t have to say which method of pasteurization they use, so you can’t read the label and find out. You could always call them and ask.Some brands we know of that do use the PPO method, which you want to avoid, is Blue Diamond Almonds. They also make other packaged products, like nut thins, that contain PPO-sprayed almonds.
Diamond of California and Costco brand uses PPO too. Keep in mind that people are putting pressure on these companies to change how they pasteurize, so they could switch in the future. Almonds that are steam pasteurized and haven’t been treated with PPO include Whole Foods brand and Trader Joe’s brand. When you buy almonds out of bins, unless you’re purchasing organic, you have no way of knowing how they were pasteurized.
We don’t recommend buying nuts out of bins anyway. This was discussed in a previous article.
If you buy slivered almonds or sliced almonds, you’re safe. The insides of almonds cannot be treated with PPO.
Can You Buy Unpasteurized Almonds?
Raw, organic almonds aren’t pasteurized, but we don’t recommend buying unpasteurized almonds. Believe it or not, raw, organic almonds undergo no cleansing or washing, so you run the risk of eating mold and insect debris.Yuck! Stick with pasteurized, organic almonds. They’re more expensive, but they’re the healthiest almonds to buy.
Believe it or not, the FDA says you can label pasteurized almonds as raw even though they were exposed to heat. So raw may not mean truly raw. Yes, there are people who argue raw nuts are better for you than those exposed to heat. Raw foodists point out that pasteurizing destroys some of the nutrients that make almonds so healthy.The heat of pasteurization really just destroys the almond’s natural enzymes that aid in digestion. The reality is we don’t really need those because we make our own.
What about Almond Butter and Almond Milk?
If you stick with organic almond butter, you should be okay. According to Natural Grocers, the brands Arrowhead Mills, Maranatha, Kettle, and Justin are made with almonds treated by the steam method. You might be tempted to switch to peanut butter to avoid the problem entirely. Not so fast!
Organic almond butter is a better choice over peanut butter for a few reasons. It has more vitamin E and is more nutritious overall. Plus, aflatoxins, a type of toxin produced by mold fungi, are more likely to be on peanuts than on almonds. Aflatoxin is a known carcinogen linked with liver cancer. Stick with almond butter if you’re looking for the most nutritious option, but make it organic.
Tip: Stir in a teaspoon of organic almond butter into your next bowl of hot oatmeal and milk – tastes yummy!
Speaking of milk – what about almond milk and PPO? We can’t speak for all almond milk, but, according to National Grocers, Almond Breeze Almond Milk does NOT contain almonds treated with PPO. We sometimes use Whole Foods Almond Milk and it, too, is PPO-free. Lately, as other milk alternatives have come out, we’re more inclined to buy pea milk since it’s higher in protein.
Almonds for Health: Are There Healthier Options?
Although all tree nuts, and even peanuts, are linked in studies with a reduction in cardiovascular disease and lower mortality, almonds don’t have the most favorable fatty acid profile. In general, you want nuts that have a higher ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6.
Almonds have a high omega-6 content and are low in omega-3’s. Walnuts actually have a more favorable fatty acid profile. If you could only eat one nut, walnuts and macadamia nuts might be your best option since they’re lowest in omega-6.
The Bottom Line
Sadly, you really do have to question everything you eat these days. Some people may argue you’re only getting a small amount of exposure, but we’re exposed to “small amounts” of bad stuff in almost everything we eat. It adds up. But, neither is it good to be an alarmist. You could probably eat PPO-treated almonds every day for the rest of your life and die of something unrelated.
On the other hand, your liver can only detoxify so much. It’s already overwhelmed from processing all the pollutants you’re exposed to, including pesticide residues, medications, heavy metals and everything else that makes its way into our bodies, hopefully, only in small amounts.
I’m not sure if you should completely stop eating almonds based on the fact that some are treated with PPO, but I would diversify the types of nuts you eat . You’ll get a more diverse array of nutrients using this approach anyway. Try to limit the number of toxins you’re exposed to through food, and be aware of what’s in the products you buy. Don’t assume it’s safe just because it’s on the market. It’s a toxic world out there!
Am J Clin Nutr February 2015 ajcn.099846
J. Nutr. December 2006 vol. 136 no. 12 2987-2992.
EPA “Propylene oxide”
Whole New Mom. “Is There Engine Fuel on Your Almonds?”
Natural Grocer’s “Almond Pasteurization”