Almonds are rich in healthy fats, vitamin E and fiber. Although the sweet almonds you buy at the grocery store contain a small amount of cyanide, it's not enough to poison you. However, bitter almonds are unsafe to eat and may lead to cyanide poisoning. If you suspect cyanide poisoning from almonds, go to your closest emergency room for care.
Almond poisoning is unlikely if you are eating sweet almonds from a U.S.-grown almond tree, as opposed to bitter almonds, which can be deadly.
Sweet Almonds and Cyanide
Almond poisoning is unlikely if you're buying almonds from a U.S.-grown almond tree and sold at your local grocery store. Grocery store almonds, also known as sweet almonds, contain 25.2 milligrams of cyanide per kilogram of weight, according to a 2013 study published in International Scholarly Research Notices Toxicology.
For perspective, a typical serving size of almonds is 1 ounce or 23 kernels, and 1 kilogram is equal to 35 ounces. The lethal dose of cyanide is 0.5 to 3.5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. If you weigh 160 pounds, for the minimum lethal dose, you would need to eat 50 ounces of almonds or 1,150 kernels in one day to get the amount of cyanide from almonds necessary to be poisoned. Cyanide absorbs through the respiratory tract, mucous membranes, gastrointestinal tract and skin, but it is then converted to the water-soluble molecule thiocyanate and excreted through the urine.
Dangers of Cyanide Poisoning
Cyanide works rapidly and is potentially deadly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although the gas form that you breathe is the most poisonous, eating cyanide from almonds or other sources can be harmful, too. It works by blocking oxygen from getting to your cells, causing them to die.
If you've been exposed to a small amount of cyanide, you may experience dizziness, headaches, nausea, vomiting, rapid breathing and rapid heart rate. In large amounts, cyanide may cause convulsions, loss of consciousness, low blood pressure, slowed heart rate, respiratory failure and death. If you suspect cyanide poisoning, you need to go to the emergency room right away. The only course of treatment for almond cyanide poison is a specific antidote.
Bitter Almonds and Cyanide
Sweet almonds may be safe to eat, but bitter almonds aren't. Bitter almonds are wild almonds and contain 50 times more cyanide per kilogram than sweet almonds, according to the 2013 study in ISRN Toxicology. Eating 50 bitter almonds can be deadly.
Although bitter almonds aren't sold in the United States, in 2014 there was a voluntary recall of organic raw almonds from a major health food store chain due to high amounts of cyanide. It turned out these imported almonds from Spain and Italy weren't sweet almonds, but bitter almonds. No illnesses from the almonds were reported, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The state of California grows more than 80 percent of the world's almond trees, according to the Almond Board of California. Although there haven't been any other recalls from imported almonds, if you're concerned about cyanide poisoning, buying U.S. grown almonds, whether organic or not, may be the safest bet.
Almond Benefits Outweigh Risks
Don't let the minuscule amount of cyanide in sweet almonds prevent you from including these nutritious nuts in your diet. The fiber and protein in these nuts are filling, so a little goes a long way when it comes to hunger and weight control. Almonds boost brain health, and they are also high in monounsaturated fat, which is good for your heart and helps lower blood cholesterol levels. For heart health, the American Heart Association recommends you eat five, 1/2-ounce servings of nuts per week, or about 1.5 ounces per day. There's also some evidence that the nutrients in almonds may aid in blood sugar control and reduce inflammation.
You can also soak almonds in water for 12 to 24 hours to increase the nutrient content and remove naturally occurring antinutrients that block mineral absorption. By soaking almonds, you will be able to absorb more of their vitamins and minerals and less of any tannins and acids. Consume soaked almonds within a week to ensure the greatest nutritional benefits.
- ISRN Toxicology: "Potential Toxic Levels of Cyanide in Almonds (Prunus Amygdalus), Apricot Kernels (Prunus armeniaca) and Almond Syrup"
- My Food Data: "Nutrition Facts for Almonds"
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: "Cyanide Toxicity"
- Food Safety News: "Whole Foods Raw Almonds Recalled for High Levels of Natural Chemical"
- Almond Board of California: "USDA Estimates Record-Breaking 2018 Almond Crop
- American Heart Association: "Suggested Servings From Each Food Group"
- Harvard School of Public Health: "The Nutrition Source: Almonds"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Facts About Cyanide"
- Dr. Axe: "Almonds Nutrition: Heart-Healthy Brain Booster or Fat Trap?"
- Organic Facts: "6 Proven Benefits of Soaked Almonds"