Almonds may do more for your health than provide you with nutrients such as fiber, vitamin E and healthy fats. Emerging evidence shows almonds may actually improve digestion by changing the environment of your intestinal tract for the better.
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Almonds might act as a prebiotic -- a food that stimulates the growth or activity of beneficial bacteria in your gut. Researchers of a study published in 2014 in "Anaerobe" found that when 48 healthy human volunteers ate either almonds or almond skins for six weeks, their intestinal health improved. The researchers found almonds and almond skins increased the number of the good microbes without boosting the activity of bad microbes.
Promising Prebiotic News
Prior to the 2014 study, researchers of a study published in 2008 in "Applied and Environmental Microbiology" compared the prebiotic properties of finely ground almonds or defatted almonds with commercial prebiotics -- the kind you can buy at the store. They found the finely ground almonds actually had a higher prebiotic index than commercial prebiotics.
The structure of almonds may be partially responsible for the prebiotic effects they have on your digestive tract. Almonds supply good microflora with fuel for growth throughout your entire digestive tract. This is because the fibrous almond cell walls encapsulate some of the protein as well as some of the lipid or fat of the almond, leaving it untouched during the earlier stages of digestion in your stomach and small intestine. So a good amount of lipid and protein reaches the large intestine and colon. Once in the large intestine and colon, the lipid and protein is used by microbiota there.
No Nutrient Wasted
The remaining lipid, protein and carbohydrate from the almonds is excreted in your feces. One study published in 2012 in "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" showed that the caloric content on nutrition facts labels for almonds may actually overestimate calories by 32 percent, largely due to the amount of untouched lipid excreted in your feces. Although more research is needed as to exactly which components of the almond provide the prebiotic effect and how, if the protein and lipid you do not absorb from the almond is still used as fuel for your gut, this could lead to advancements in commercially prepared prebiotic products. Either way, the current research findings are promising evidence in favor of eating almonds as a healthy snack or as part of a balanced meal.
Almonds at Any Meal
Incorporating almonds into your diet may improve your digestion. You can do more with almonds than snacking on a handful between meals because they pair well with many foods. Add finely ground almonds into your oatmeal or breakfast cereal or use them to thicken sauces and dressings. Finely ground almonds can also be used as almond flour in baking to give baked goods a dense, moist crumb texture. You can also use sliced, chopped, ground or whole almonds in salads and casseroles or as a topping or ingredient for desserts as well as poultry, fish, meat and vegetable dishes.