You may drive by two almond trees in bloom and think to yourself “how lovely”.
I jog by two almond trees and I think I’m looking at a year’s supply of nuts.
I do not snack on almonds. I inhale them as I use them as a staple of my diet like some people use bread.
In a typical year I consume right around 120 pounds of almonds by myself.
To put this in perspective under the former Blue Diamond pitch of “a can a week is all we ask”, I go through the equivalent of 2.3 cans a week or 18 ounces of almonds.
I prefer to buy my almonds when I can two 50-pound retail boxes at a time from local almond growers. It may be just me, but locally grown almonds seem to taste better than buying them in three-pound bags from Costco or — if I’m running low — the large Blue Diamond 16 ounce pouches of almonds you can buy at the store.
I also like to think they help me fend off allergies much like consuming local honey made from bees pollinating 42,000 plus acres of almonds around Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon.
I didn’t always like almonds. In fact until I was in my late 20s almonds were a “yuck” item on the same level as Brazilian nuts.
Planters tried mightily in my youth to get me hooked on almonds via their mixed nuts cans. But I would cherry pick my favorites at the time — cashews, then peanuts, and then, if I was desperate, walnuts. All the other nuts, including almonds, were worthless to me.
So what happened? The California Almond Board got smart. They started to “ruin” the natural taste of almonds while cutting into its natural wholesome dietary values by BBQ smoking them, honey roasting them and such that also involved adding salt.
The day I discovered just how good almonds in their natural state are was after I had dropped 130 pounds around my 30th birthday and I was trying to piece together a plan to stop gaining weight. I dropped most anything with added salt for a while including my favorite convenience store food at the time — a small snack bag of honey roasted Blue Diamond almonds.
It was around that time I bought my first bag of unadulterated almonds.
As the years passed, the less processed food I ate the better raw veggies, fruits, and nuts tasted. It wasn’t until 12 years ago that I wanted to drop from the 190 to 215 pounds range I’d been at since my big plunge after tipping the scales at 320 pounds that I stepped up my consumption of plain almonds.
My goal was to weigh what I did in the sixth grade — 165 pounds without reducing my calorie intact that hovers around 4,000 plus a day or stepping up my exercise. I greatly reduced processed food consumption further and replaced it with enough yogurt and cottage cheese to practically have a cow dedicated to meeting my needs as well as consuming assorted veggies and fruit. At the same time my almond consumption rocketed to 120 to 130 pounds a year — the equivalent of the annual almond production of two mature trees at the height of their yield years — and have stayed there.
That said I have to admit I’m starting to hear the siren signs of walnuts.
Walnuts were a childhood staple given my mom would buy boxes of them from a grower near Yuba River north of Marysville. My job was to crack the walnuts so we could eat them as snack food, use them in cooking, and fill zip lock bags with them as holiday gifts. No matter how much I gorged on them, my walnut consumption never came close to how I inhale almonds today.
So what brings walnuts back onto my radar?
In recent years I’ve noticed pasture — and even some almond orchards — being planted in walnuts throughout South San Joaquin County.
Almonds have been consistently San Joaquin County’s second or third largest crop and the top agricultural commodity in Stanislaus County.
Almonds are still king by far in Stanislaus County but in San Joaquin County walnuts are closing the gap.
In 2017 there were 72,200 acres of almonds in San Joaquin County that produced 75,400 tons. Walnuts accounted for 67,500 acres that produced 125,000 tons. Given that almonds have almost twice as high per ton value they are still ahead of walnuts in San Joaquin County but not by much.
Of the $2.5 billion in crop product in the county during 2017, grapes were No. 1 at $395.5 million, milk No. 2 at $387.3 million, almonds No. 3 at $362.7 million, walnuts No. 4 at $317.3 million, and cherries No. 5 at $184.5 million.
Stanislaus County farm products came in at $3.6 billion in 2017 with almonds at $1.9 billion with 212,000 tons gleaned from 188,000 acres. English walnuts were less than half of the San Joaquin County production at $163.6 million with 68,100 tons from 36,618 acres.
Given Ripon celebrates almonds maybe some community should give walnuts their due.
If Stanislaus County were a state, it would rank 28th in agriculture production behind Oregon and ahead of New York. San Joaquin County would be ranked 32nd behind New Mexico and ahead of Tennessee.
Almonds versus walnuts
Medical research for years has consistently shown those who consume nuts as a cornerstone of their diet tend to be leaner. By 1990 that medical research started a movement toward nuts as solid food for weight loss. That’s because nut eaters were leaner, it wasn’t until the 1990s that nuts started to catch on as a way to help with weight loss as the protein and fiber fills you up. The body has a hard time using all of the calories in a nut and there is evidence that leans towards nuts ramping up your metabolism, allowing you to burn more calories even at rest.
Experts say almonds have an edge over walnuts for weight loss.
Walnuts tend to look like a brain so it comes as no surprise experts say it is better brain food than almonds. Actually it has to do with walnuts’ high omega 3 content even though almonds and hazelnuts have been shown to improve brain function by as much as 60 percent after seven years. Nuts in general help the brain but not as much as almonds and hazelnuts and certainly not as much as walnuts.
Nuts are superfoods and walnuts and almonds are the top nuts.
When it comes to fiber, almonds have twice the amount per ounce as walnuts. Almonds also have a third more protein than walnuts. Almonds also top walnuts in electrolytes.
Almonds also come out on top in a fourth category — Vitamin E.
Walnuts do win on one nutritional category which is Omega 3.
Experts rate walnuts and almonds as a tie for heart health; keeping blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes in check, as well as a hedge of sorts against cancer.
Walnuts, though, have been shown to be effective in combatting arthritis.
Given that, my new “diet plan” is to increase my almond consumption from two trees to perhaps two and a half trees worth of production a year (140 to 150 pounds) and pair it with perhaps 25 pounds of walnuts.
It obviously won’t kill me to jettison the 500 calories in chocolate chip cookies I eat at night when I’m in the office and replace them with walnuts and almonds.
But then again experts say that chocolate can be healthy for you as well.