This week another large study added to the body of known cardiovascular benefits of eating almonds. Every ounce eaten daily was associated with a 3.5 percent decreased risk of heart disease ten years later. Almonds are already known to help with weight loss and satiety, help prevent diabetes, and potentially ameliorate arthritis, inhibit cancer-cell growth, and decrease Alzheimer’s risk. A strong case could be made that almonds are, nutritionally, the best single food a person could eat.Almonds recently overtook peanuts as the most-eaten “nut” (seed, technically) in the United States, and Americans now consume more than 10 times as many almonds as we did in 1965. The meteoric rise of the tree-nut is driven in part by vogue aversions to meat protein and to soy and dairy milks, and even by the unconscionable rise of the macaron. But the main popularity driver is almonds’ increasingly indelible image as paragons of nutrition.This week’s research, led by the eminent David Jenkins, professor and research chair in nutrition and metabolism at the University of Toronto, suggests that in addition to almonds’ idyllic monounsaturated fats, the cardiac benefits may be due to vitamin E, fiber, antioxidant phytochemicals (phenols, flavonoids, proanthocyanidins, and phytosterols), or arginine—and that’s just a partial list of almondic virtues.
This follows a massive study released last fall from Harvard that found eating nuts decreased mortality rates by 20 percent, and it builds on Jenkins’ work done more than 10 years ago which suggested, in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation, “Almonds used as snacks in the diets of hyperlipidemic subjects significantly reduce coronary heart disease risk factors.”That’s all wonderful, but coverage of almond-nutrition research necessarily affords a narrow vantage on health. It seems like every day someone asks me to dichotomize a health trend: good or bad. Almonds are a great example of why I’m terrible at doing that.It was around the time of Jenkins’ prior study, and amid the broader “actually, fat isn’t categorically bad” movement in the U.S. that almonds really got traction. We eat about the same amounts of other nuts as we did decades ago, but almond consumption singularly soared. (Pistachios are on the rise, but they are nowhere near almonds.The only state that produces almonds commercially is California, where cool winter and mild springs let almond trees bloom. Eighty-two percent of the world’s almonds come from California. The U.S. is the leading consumer of almonds by far.