No wonder I was such a healthy child. Raw natural almonds were my favourite snack. My mother did not allow any sweets except on special occasions and a potato chip or a cheesie would have been shot on sight had they ever crossed our door path. The snacks I had free reign over were natural almonds and dried apricots (not the natural, sulfite-free versions because they were not available). I would come home from school and head right to the cupboard to munch on them. Dried apricots did not give me gas back then but it was the almonds that really made my heart sore with delight.
Researchers are now discovering the prebiotic benefits of almonds. There have been several studies looking at their potential to promote good bacteria levels including one study that used a lab-design simulator of the gastrointestinal tract complete with added gastric juices and another that used poo mixed with almond or almonds skins to see how much the bacteria in the poo grew. The latest study actually used people, 48 of them in three groups. For six weeks, one group consumed 56 g of roasted almonds, a second group ate 10 g of almond skins and a third group ingested 10 g of commercial FOS (fructooligosaccharides), one of the best prebiotic substances found in many foods.
The results showed that bifidobacteria and lactobacilli levels grew immediately for the almond skin group and the FOS group. The FOS group saw their levels of good bacteria grown the fastest. However, by week six, the almond skin group had caught up to the FOS group producing a similar increase in good bacteria. The roasted almond group showed good bacteria growth in week six. The increased levels of good bacteria in all groups were maintained for up to two weeks after ingestion.
Almonds are the most popular nut in the world with 36 % share of the market. Remember that the peanut is a legume, not a nut. Almonds are a great source of nutrients with significant levels of vitamin E and magnesium, calcium and potassium. The skins contain 56% dietary fiber and the nut itself is about 12%. It is the fiber with the prebiotic potential as it passes through the intestinal tract indigested and interacts with the gut bacteria. Research also believe that phytonutrients in almonds are also playing a role in the prebiotic benefit but are not sure how or which phytonutrients in the almonds are involved.
It would have been interesting if they had not roasted the almonds and had a group who ate the whole almonds just as nature made it. Not only were almonds my snacks but it was a family tradition to crack nuts in the shell after dinner and eat them as is. That is a pretty common Italian ritual which got me thinking. What about other nuts? There is no research about other varieties of nut yet and their potential prebiotic value. However, it has me thinking: Is this another tradition of our ancestors where they knew how to promote health gut flora, even if they did not know that is what they were doing? We also ate cheese after a meal which contains GOS, another beneficial prebiotic and if it’s hard cheese, it is fermented and contains good bacteria. We also ate fruit, which can feed the good bacteria, too.
What can we make of all this? Well, it looks like we will have to go one food at a time before the research community finally gets the “whole” picture but we do not have to wait for them. It should be pretty obvious that if we want good gut health we need fermented foods, of course but we also need prebiotic foods and combining them together makes for one healthy recipe for our intestines.
For some raw natural almond benefit try this simple recipe: Chocolate Almond Treats
- Prebiotic Effects of Almonds and Almond Skins on Intestinal Microbiota in Healthy Adult Humans, Zhibin Liua, Xiuchun Lina, Guangwei Huangb, Wen Zhanga, Pingfan Raoa, Li Nia, Anaerobe, Volume 26, April 2014, Pages 1–6
- Potential Prebiotic Properties of Almond (Amygdalus communis L.), Seeds,G. Mandalari,1,3, C. Nueno-Palop2, G. Bisignano3, M. S. J. Wickham1 and A. Narbad2, Appl. Environ. Microbiol. July 2008 vol. 74 no. 14 4264-42