Small, robust and teardrop-shaped, almonds might just be one of the most versatile snack foods going. They can add some crunch to your salad, give a nutty kick to a smoothie, form a healthy crumble topping and even be pulverised into a lactose-free milk alternative.
The first thing to know about these hardy brown objects is that they're not actually nuts - almonds are seeds that are grown on a tree native to Mediterranean climate regions of the Middle East, from Syria and Turkey to Pakistan, although they've now been introduced elsewhere.
Packed with high levels of fibre, vitamin E and proteins, almonds are one of Mother Nature's greatest snack foods - and since they're easy to grab-on-the-go, there's no messy preparation in the kitchen either.
Consultant dietitian Lucy Jones advises that we should snack on no more than a handful (around 28g) of almonds per day for a healthy summer snack, and suggests you also look for unsalted varieties, to make sure you're keeping your blood pressure in check.
We spoke to her about some of the amazing health benefits you can reap from adding almonds into your diet...
1. They can help you to concentrate
Struggling to focus at your desk? Research has shown that almonds can help. "A recent study published in the British Journal of Nutrition that investigated the 'post-lunch cognitive crash' (when our memory and attention starts to dip in the afternoon) found that eating a high-fat lunch with almonds resulted in significantly smaller declines in memory scores, compared to a high-carb lunch without almonds," says Jones. This is because almonds are packed with nutrients that are important for brain health, including vitamin E, folate and unsaturated fatty acids, and L-carnitine - which has been found to have brain-boosting, neuroprotective benefits.
2. They're good for your heart
The high fat content in almonds can seem alarming on first glance, but don't panic; they're mainly mono and polyunsaturated, aka the kinds that benefit your heart. Jones explains that almonds contain linoleic acid, an important fatty acid which contributes to the maintenance of normal blood cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of coronary heart disease.
3. They're great for your skin
Forget expensive moisturisers and sheet masks; almonds are secretly the healthiest and cheapest way to get an A-lister glow. "Almonds are high in zinc and riboflavin, and a source of niacin, which all contribute to the maintenance of normal nails and skin," explains Jones. "They're are also rich in vitamin E, which can help to protect cells from the oxidative stress caused by pollution, UV rays from the sun, cigarette smoke and other environmental factors - all of which contribute to the skin ageing process."
4. They can help you to lose weight
Planning to shed a few pounds before summer? "A 2014 study published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that a mid-morning, 42g snack of almonds, compared to no snack, helped to control appetite and resulted in a reduced calorie intake for participants, for lunch and dinner," says Jones. She believes that rather than skipping a snack, keeping a pot of almonds by your desk may curb hunger pangs later in the day.
5. They'll give you energy
Almonds make a great alternative to caffeine-loaded drinks, like tea and coffee. As natural energy-boosters, they come loaded with good nutrition that will power you through a long shift at the office. "Almonds are a source of energising plant protein," says Jones. "There are around 6g per 28g portion." As well as optimising brain function with proteins, they also contain a potent mix of fibre and healthy fats to help you to stay focused, no matter what the day may bring. So, next time you're thinking of snacking on sugary sweets or chocolates, try tucking into a handful of nutrient-rich almonds instead.