Chinese almonds, used in some foods and in traditional Chinese medicine, are actually not almonds at all--they're apricot seeds. Chinese almonds are prescribed by Chinese medicine practitioners primarily for respiratory symptoms rather than weight loss, although these seeds also produce a laxative effect. If you're looking for a healthy way to lose weight, however, you are better off eating regular almonds as opposed to Chinese almonds. Chinese almonds can be toxic if consumed raw, while eating regular almonds may promote weight management.
In traditional Chinese medicine, apricot seeds, also sold as Chinese almonds or xing ren, are often prescribed to treat respiratory diseases such as bronchitis and emphysema. Chinese almonds contain a chemical called amygdalin, or B17, which is thought to act as an expectorant and cough suppressant. Chinese medicine practitioners often combine apricot seed with other herbs, such as white mulberry leaf and ophiopogon. As apricot seed oil is chemically similar to bitter almond oil and a less expensive alternative, it is also used in place of almond flavoring or scents in foods and cosmetics.
Although Chinese almonds may produce useful respiratory effects, they may be toxic if consumed raw in large enough quantities. Medications which use a certain extract from Chinese almonds may also cause a toxic reaction. Amygdalin, the active therapeutic ingredient in Chinese almonds, is converted by the body into the toxic substance cyanide. The FDA and National Cancer Institute determined in 1987 that amygdalin use in medicines is hazardous and may cause cyanide poisoning, which can be fatal. Raw Chinese almonds and medicines with amygdalin are not sold in U.S. health food stores or pharmacies, although they can sometimes be found in Chinese markets in the United States.
Chinese Medicine for Weight Problems
Some types of traditional Chinese medicine may be useful in treating certain overweight-related conditions such as diabetes. A 2004 analysis published in "Cochrane Database of System Review" concluded that some herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine seem to help control blood sugar in people with diabetes, although further well-designed studies are necessary to determine their efficacy. Despite their possible usefulness in treating diabetes, using Chinese medicine products for weight problems can be dangerous. A 2006 investigation conducted by Institute of Forensic Medicine found that a Chinese herbal medicine sold online as an herbal weight loss cure contained unsafe levels of the synthetic appetite suppressant, sibutramine.
Almonds for Weight Loss
While Chinese almonds and other types of traditional Chinese medicine may have a questionable status regarding their safety and effectiveness for weight loss or other conditions, regular almonds sold at the grocery store may actually provide some weight-loss benefits. Besides containing lots of filling fiber and protein, a study published in a 2009 issue of "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" concluded that chewing almonds produces appetite-suppressing effects. Another study, published in "International Journal of Obesity," found that compared to a complex carbohydrate-based low-calorie diet, an almond-enriched low calorie diet was more effective in reducing body weight and symptoms of metabolic disease in overweight subjects, likely due to almonds' high monounsaturated fat content.
Healthy Weight Loss Strategies
Rather than taking potentially unsafe health supplements or following gimmicky fad diets, the better strategy for safe and effective weight loss involves the tried and true methods of a healthy, low-calorie diet and regular exercise. In addition to including nutritious plant foods like almonds in your diet, regular exercise, drinking water instead of sugary drinks, and eating smaller portions will also help you lose weight.
- "Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine"; Apricot Seed; Joan Schonbeck; April 2001
- "Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews"; Chinese Herbal Medicines for Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus; Liu JP; 2004
- "Forensic Science International"; Anorectic Sibutramine Detected in a Chinese Herbal Drug for Weight Loss; Jung J; September 2006
- Almond Board of California: The Skinny on Fat
- "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition"; Mastication of Almonds -- Effects of Lipid Bioaccessibility, Appetite, and Hormone Response; Cassady BA; March 2009
- "International Journal of Obesity"; Almonds vs Complex Carbohydrates in a Weight Reduction Program; MA Wein; May 2003