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Healthy Diet, Healthy Planet: How to Nourish Your Body and Eat Sustainably

Madeleine Shaw discusses why almonds are one of her top choices for a nutritionally dense food which are also grown in a responsible way.


By Madeleine Shaw, nutritionist and home cook


I believe that eating well isn’t just about eating well for our bodies, it’s about making a conscious decision to consume foods that are also good for the environment. Therefore, I am always on the hunt for nutritionally dense foods that will support my health and our planet.

Working out how to eat well and sustainably can sometimes feel overwhelming, but it really doesn’t need to be complicated. If you are unsure of where to begin, my advice is to start with whole foods. Whole foods are minimally processed and retain their natural nutrients, so incorporating them into your diet will provide you with the essential nutrients you need and help to reduce your consumption of ultra-processed foods. One ingredient I absolutely love for this is almonds - both in terms of their nutritional value, and the steps that California almond farmers are taking to ensure that they are being grown in a sustainable way.

Almonds are packed full of goodness from healthy fats, protein, fibre and vitamins - all of which are beneficial to our health. For example, a handful of almonds (30g) provides you with 60% of your daily recommended amount of vitamin E, a potent antioxidant that protects our cells from oxidative stress from free radicals. This incredible vitamin also helps protect our cells from oxidative stress caused by pollution, UV rays from the sun, cigarette smoke and other environmental factors. Riboflavin, also known as vitamin B2, is another vitamin present in almonds, and is an essential nutrient that plays a role in various physiological processes in the body, for example, contributes to vision, skin, and normal functioning of the nervous system. 

I mentioned earlier that almonds are fibre-rich, which is excellent for supporting gut health. Fibre has also been shown to lower the risk of heart disease, regulate blood sugar levels, and acts as a prebiotic, providing nourishment for the beneficial bacteria in the gut. A healthy gut microbiome has been associated with various health benefits, including improved digestion, immune function, and mental health.

On the topic of fibre, something that I find fascinating is the research that the California almond industry is doing into the use of almond hulls (the outer shell that almonds grow in) which have a high fibre content. Researchers are currently testing how almond hulls can be used to make high-fibre bread and nutrition bars, and even as a substitute for coffee or tea. I was lucky enough to try these at a dinner event recently – and they are absolutely delicious as well as being a novel way of putting almond co-products to good use!

On this point, minimizing food waste is one of my biggest pieces of advice for implementing a sustainable and nutritious eating plan. I always recommend trying to keep the pantry stocked with healthy staples that have a long shelf life and can therefore help in reducing food waste. Almonds are a great choice here; not only are they a shelf stable, plant-based option that helps you waste less, but did you know they are also grown in a zero-waste way? Nothing in the orchards goes to waste! I talked in the above paragraph about the innovative new uses for almond hulls that are currently being explored, but there’s so much other stuff that is already happening.

Think about it, the nutritious almond we eat is only part of it. The almond is grown in a shell, protected by a hull, on a tree. So you get four products in one. And every product is put to good use. For example, after the trees have served their purpose, they are repurposed through a process known as whole orchard recycling, which not only helps to reduce greenhouse gases but also improves soil health and enhances yields. The farming community in California are continuously exploring ways to further reduce waste and achieve a zero-waste goal by 2025. This entails adopting creative methods to maximise the value of every part of the crop. For instance, the hulls are currently commonly used as feed for livestock while the shells serve as bedding, but newer, more innovative uses for these co-products is a hot topic for research right now.

So, for a well-rounded approach to eating for your body and the planet, almonds are a great healthy, nutritious and low-waste option to incorporate. Click here to try some of my favourite almond recipes - enjoy!