A Nutty Dilemma

ARE “RAW” ALMONDS REALLY A SAFE NUT FOR HUMANS TO EAT?

I love nuts, pretty much any kind of nut. But of all the nuts out there, if I had to choose just one to satisfy my taste buds, as well as fill all of the diverse roles I’ve become accustomed to filling with these diverse and useful little food tidbits, I think the nut I’d have to select would be the noble almond.

Long before I became aware of the benefits of following a high raw foods diet I loved nibbling almonds as a snack. But in those days I would normally consume them as just one ingredient in a store-bought trail mix, or eat them by the handful from a jar, roasted, and seasoned with salt and smoky flavoring. Roasted Almond NutsI enjoy them both ways! But even beyond that, I’ve always adored the flavor of almonds. Marzipan, a German confection made of finely ground almonds and mixed with sugar to form a thick paste, is a favorite! And I am especially fond the stuff when stuffed into Danish pastries and croissants. As a person of Swedish heritage, I was raised on sweet and creamy rice puddings flavored with almond extract, so you can begin to understand my affinity with this delectable nut.

NUTRITIONAL FACTS

But it wasn’t until I began studying the nutrition value found in the components of a healthy diet that I truly understood what a powerhouse these little gems are! A one ounce serving of almonds provides 3.5 grams of dietary fiber (14% of daily requirement), 6 grams of Protein (12% of daily requirement), 7% of your daily recommended requirement for Calcium, 6% Iron and has no Cholesterol or Sodium. They are also a good source of Riboflavin, Magnesium and Manganese and a very good source of Vitamin E. They are rated zero on Estimated Glycemic Load and 52 on their Inflammation Factor, making them slightly anti-inflammatory. So, almonds have huge health potential, which is a good thing, since many raw foodists use them as a staple ingredient in their diet. (Almond Nutrition Facts)

Most high-raw foodists choose not to eat animal and dairy products, believing them less-than ideal for optimal health. As an alternative to dairy consumption, nuts…and almonds being foremost among them…are used as an amazing replacement ingredient in many recipes calling for milk, cream, sour cream, cream cheese, cheese, etc. Nuts may be soaked then blended, and the liquid separated from the pulp, resulting in a type of “milk” that can be used to replace the dairy version in many traditional recipes. Additionally, the whole soaked nuts, when processed in a high speed blender with a smaller quantity of water, can be turned into a “cream” used to make many delicious dairy-like concoctions without the need for animal-based ingredients. This is a truly ingenious process and core to many gourmet raw food lifestyles.

Personally, I have had a bit of an issue with eating a lot of nut-based food, looking at it from the high-fat and high-calorie consumption perspective. But, if you’re thinking that raw nuts are a much healthier option to consuming animal-based dairy products, this adds some amazing variety to your diet as a person wanting to pursue a high-raw foods lifestyle.

However, I discovered a disturbing bug in the ointment when it comes to what most people believe about the health value of the “raw” almond. Here’s the rub…

According to Wikipedia:
“In the United States, production is concentrated in California, with almonds being California’s third leading agricultural product and its top agricultural export in 2008. California produces 80% of the world’s almonds and 100% of the U.S. commercial supply. California exported almonds valued at $1.08 billion in 2003, about 70% of total California almond crop.”

This is interesting because, more than likely, if you’re eating almonds, you’re getting them from California. And if you’ve been in the raw foods movement for long, you’re probably aware of the fairly recent, controversial fact that the Federal Government has made pasteurization mandatory for all California-grown almonds, as follows (again, from Wikipedia):

“Because of two cases of salmonellosis traced to almonds in 2001 and 2004, the Almond Board of California proposed rules in 2006 regarding pasteurization of almonds available to the public, and the USDA approved them. The almond pasteurization program became mandatory for the California industry on September 1, 2007, and was implemented voluntarily over the previous two years. Since September 1, 2007, raw untreated California almonds have technically not been available in the United States.”

Now, this is bad enough in and of itself because what you THOUGHT were raw almonds are really _not_ raw at all. They are pasteurized. So, if you expected to receive all of the health benefits associated with eating raw foods when you were eating what you believed were raw almonds, since 2005, you’ve been sadly mistaken.

But, hold on, it gets worse…

Far worse…

Here’s a little known fact that I’m betting you are not aware of (again from Wikipedia):

Controversially, California almonds labeled as “raw” are required to be steam-pasteurized or chemically treated with propylene oxide.

WHAT IS PROPLYENE OXIDE?

“Propylene oxide is an organic compound with the molecular formula CH3CHCH2O. This colourless volatile liquid is produced on a large scale industrially, its major application being its use for the production of polyether polyols for use in making polyurethane plastics. It is chiral epoxide, although it is commonly used as a racemic mixture.”

Now, that sounds a little freaky. But it IS an organic compound, right? So maybe it’s not as scary as it seems…

Let’s look a little further:

“Propylene oxide was once used as a racing fuel, but that usage is now prohibited under the US NHRA (the National Hot Rod Association) rules for safety reasons. It has also been used in glow fuel for model aircraft and surface vehicles, typically combined in small percentages of around 2% as an additive to the typical methanol, nitromethane, and oil mix. It is also used in thermobaric weapons, and microbial fumigation.”

Ummm…ok, but maybe I just don’t have enough information. Maybe this isn’t as bad as it looks…I mean…H20/water is used in a lot of toxic sounding products and processes, too. So I don’t want to be a reactionist here. Let’s get additional information:

“As A Fumigant – The United States Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of propylene oxide to pasteurize raw almonds beginning on September 1, 2007 in response to two incidents of contamination by Salmonella in commercial orchards, one incident occurring in Canada, and one incident in the United States. Pistachio nuts can also be subjected to propylene oxide to control Salmonella. It is a method approved by the FDA.”

SAFETY OF PROPYLENE OXIDE

Ok, so, if the FDA approved it then it must be safe, right? So we can breathe easier knowing that bit, correct? Oh. Wait a minute. What’s this you say?

“Safety – Propylene oxide is a probable human carcinogen, and listed as an IARC (The International Agency for Research on Cancer) Group 2B carcinogen.”

Now I’m concerned.

So I did some further research. This is VERY _thick_ reading…feel free to read the research paper yourself, if you’d like additional information, but to summarize the findings:

“In a 2-year cancer bioassay with rats exposed to constant PO concentration the pattern for DNA and Hb-adduct accumulation did not correlate with the incidence curve for nasal tumors…Tumor formation was only seen at >300 ppm exposure (highest levels tested 300 and 500 ppm) (*so…very astronomically high, constant exposure through inhalation or direct application). Neither adduct accumulation in tissues can explain the threshold in nasal tumor formation. The authors suggest an increased cell proliferation in the nose occurs at high PO (Propylene Oxide) concentration to be a critical factor for tumorigenesis in this tissue. Research needs and recommendations: The animal data consist of oral, inhalation and subcutaneous studies in three strains of rats and two strains of mice (*so, not in humans). Propylene oxide caused tumors at or near the site of administration in rodents, causing nasal tumors after inhalation exposure.”

CONCLUSION: IS THE ALMOND A SAFE NUT FOR HUMANS TO EAT?

Bottom line…it does appear that proplyne oxide is dangerous if/when exposed through inhalation or direct application at extremely high levels, for a continuous period of time. But when eating a few nuts on a daily basis, it appears there is really not much risk.

You have to decide for yourself if adding pasturized nuts…almonds or otherwise…to your diet on a daily basis is worth the small risk of possible…not even probable…carcinogenic reaction in your body.

For me? I’ll continue to enjoy almonds and other nuts, in moderation, because they really do enhance my dietary experience. And quite frankly, there are many other, more immediate risks to my health that I navigate every day in order to have a pleasurable and meaningful life experience (I could walk out the door, cross the street, and get hit by a bus…for example. Odds of that happening are probably MUCH greater than getting cancer from consuming too many almonds, I’m sure!)

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