During the last years, almond milk has gained popularity and there are many reasons for that.
Whether you’re sensitive to milk, vegan or just don’t like cow’s milk taste, almond milk is a great alternative.
However, can it really replace it?
First, before enumerating its health benefits and contraindications, let’s start by defining almond milk.
What is Almond Milk?
In simple words, almond milk is a drink made by mixing ground almonds and water. It’s everyone’s favorite alternative to cow’s milk and considered the perfect plant-based drink for vegans. Dieters are fond of it too. And, why wouldn’t they be since almond milk contains just 2% almonds whole the rest is water, sweeteners, minerals, vitamins, and thickening agents. It’s the perfect drink to make you feel fuller for longer.
But, why are we hearing about the benefits of almond milk when the drink has been around for so many years?
Not years, but probably centuries. According to Jenny Heap, a dietician from the Almond Board of California, almond milk exists since the Middle Ages. Back then, says Heap, almond milk was the preferred choice of noble households.
During the Middle Ages, almond milk consumption was more than animal milk. Such was the influence of almond milk on the people of ancient times.
Over time, humankind became ignorant towards this incredibly beneficial beverage. According to Heap, almond milk again became popular in the last three to five years, and we can now find it in every cold dairy case. It’s now a prominent part of various dairy products such as ice cream and other frozen products.
It’s true that the popularity of almond milk is gaining momentum. In 2014, almond milk defeated soymilk in Boston Globe’s survey on the ‘most popular non-animal milk product.’
I know what you want to ask…. Is almond milk a dairy product or non-dairy?
And, the most commonly asked question about almond milk: why do we call it milk in the first place?
Let’s address the confusion once and for all. We call it almond milk, and you typically find it on the dairy counter/aisle at supermarkets, but it isn’t milk. It’s a non-dairy product that’s considered the best dairy-free, lactose-free, and soy-free option.
Heap affirms that almond milk is non-dairy because we make it by blending almonds with water and straining the drink to remove leftover bits and pieces of almonds. After straining, you can mix your choice of sweetener in the drink. You may even add salt and a thickening agent like carrageenan. Most commercial almond milk makers use carrageenan, as it is the best available beverage stabilizer. Carrageenan is derived from seaweed. Commercial manufacturers also add nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to fortify the drink, and make it worthy of your investment. But, you may make it at home and enjoy the tasty, nutritious beverage in a fraction of the price.
Making almond milk is very easy and very very cheap than the commercial brands of almond milk. Here’s what you need to do:
Take one cup of almonds. Wash and soak them in a bowl of water. Let them soak for at least one to two days.
On the second/third day, drain the almonds, and discard the water.
Take a blender and place almonds in it with 2 cups of fresh water.
Blend them well on high speed until you feel that almonds are thoroughly crushed and mixed.
Use cheesecloth or muslin cloth to strain the mixture. This is an essential step as it will remove leftover almond chunks.
It’s now time to be experimental for the sake of enhancing the flavor of almond milk and having some fun. You can add a sweetener, vanilla extract, almond extract, cinnamon powder, cinnamon sugar, vanilla sugar or salt in the milk to make it tastier.
You can even drink it plain without adding anything.
Or else, if you want to thicken it, add a beverage stabilizer and thickening agent of your choice.
Can Almond Milk Go Bad? If Yes …. How Long Does it Last?
Remember that just like any other beverage, almond milk can go bad too. No matter if it’s the homemade variety you have or the commercial one, there will be an expiry date. Commercial almond milk’s expiry date is always mentioned on the package. Generally, manufacturers recommend consuming almond milk within seven days after opening the bottle/can/carton, affirms Almond Breeze brand website. On the other hand, homemade almond milk’s shelf life isn’t that long. Heap recommends using homemade almond within a day or two at max.
Almond Milk Nutrition Facts
Almond Milk versus Almonds
So, what about the nutritional profile of almond milk?
Is it better than raw almonds?
For your information, almond milk does contain some benefits of the incredibly healthy almonds. Such as, it contains vitamin E and riboflavin, which almonds have in abundance.
However, generally speaking, almond milk’s nutrition profile varies with the quality of almonds. Nevertheless, it remains lower than raw almonds.
As Heap explains, when it comes to almonds, just an ounce or about 23 almonds have 4 grams fiber, 6 grams protein, and vitamin E 35% DV (daily value), riboflavin 20% DV, magnesium 20% DV, potassium 6% DV, and calcium 8% DV.
Since its unclear how many almonds we need to prepare one quart of almond milk if it’s a commercial one. We also cannot precisely predict how many almonds are included in a homemade recipe to make one quart of the drink, but the amount will be lower than you expect. For instance, one carton of almond milk from British brand Alpro contain only 2% almonds while the rest is water, thickening agents, and added nutrients.
According to Business Insider, commercial almond milk recipes are more or less the same regardless of the brand. The Los Angeles Times’ reported that the ingredients list on different brands of almond milk shows the main ingredient almond on the second or third number. Water and sweeteners come first.
Hence, The George Mateljan Foundation’s World’s Healthiest Foods website states that between whole almonds and almond milk, you’ll benefit more by eating almonds. Their nutritional profile will be richer than almond milk.
The comparison between whole almonds and almond milk on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s nutrient value charts reveal that there’s 1 gram of protein in an 8-ounce glass of almond milk.
Conversely, there’re 6 grams of protein in a single serving of whole almonds. Moreover, a glass of almond milk has just 1 gram of fiber while there’re 4 grams of fiber in whole almonds. Almond milk contains 17 grams of magnesium, which is 77 grams in whole almonds. And, last but not the least, almond milk offer 1.5 grams of monounsaturated fats while whole almonds provide 9 grams of these heart-healthy fats.
However, the amount of calcium and vitamin A and D is higher in almond milk than whole almonds. That’s because manufacturers can easily fortify the milk with additional nutrients, claims World’s Healthiest Foods.
Besides, vitamin E is added later in almond milk because when we blend whole almonds with water, the vitamin E present in almond doesn’t mix into the liquid.
If you like to make almond milk at home, the nutritional profile will most likely go up. As per Heap, the ideal recipe involves one cup of almond per two cups of water. This proportion will yield milk with higher nut percentage than the packaged options.
Almond Milk versus Cow’s Milk
Have you ever thought why there are vitamin A and D in the commercial almond milk and none in whole almonds?
The reason is that manufacturers add vitamin A and D at a later stage during the production of almond milk. Manufacturers do that to make almond milk as closer to cow’s milk as possible regarding nutritional profile. A majority of people believe that almond milk is a dairy substitute, which is a misconception as we mentioned above.
The USDA explains that almond milk contains 1 gram of protein per cup while cow’s milk contains 8. So, if you buy almond milk that’s fortified with calcium, its calcium level will either be the same or higher than cow’s milk.
This manipulation cannot occur if we make almond milk at home.
The vitamin A, D, E, and B12 levels in fortified almond milk can easily surpass those found in non-fortified cow milk. Conversely, cow’s milk contains twice the amount of phosphorus and potassium than what we get in almond milk. Comparatively, almond milk is high in sodium.
A critical difference between cow’s milk and almond milk is that there are no traces of cholesterol and saturated fats in almond milk, whereas cow’s milk contains them to some degree. The type of milk determines the proportion of cholesterol and saturated fats. According to the Washington Post, almond milk contains all healthy fat, but it is difficult to say the same about cow’s milk. However, the low-fat, no-fat, or skim variety in cow’s milk is to some extent healthy.
Moreover, there are fewer calories in almond milk, while cow’s milk has high calories unless it’s no-fat or skim variety. Almond milk can be high in calories if you sweeten it a lot. Even if you sweeten cow’s skim milk too much, its calorie count will increase as well.
Key Nutrition Facts And Health Benefits Of Almond Milk
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is the primary authority that regulates food labeling in the country via the Nutritional Labeling and Education Act. According to the FDA, there are many benefits of almond milk. Its benefits, however, depend upon the mineral and vitamin fortification. Addition of nutrients like vitamins A, D, E and B12, calcium, and protein by the manufacturer greatly impact its nutritional profile.
But some properties are part of every type of almond milk, from homemade one to the commercial one. Here’re the most prominent benefits of almond milk.
1. Non-dairy & Lactose-free
As mentioned above, almond milk is dairy-free. Therefore, it turns out to be an excellent option for those who are either dairy or lactose intolerant and need some dairy-like product to mix in their cereal.
An article on Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition regarding plant-based milk alternatives reveals that about 75% of world populace suffers from lactose intolerance. Such an overwhelming number of people can easily benefit from lactose-free almond milk. Also, for the vegetarians and vegans, almond milk is like a blessing in disguise.
However, the article warns that consumers mustn’t think that almond milk will offer the same amounts of protein and calcium as in cow’s milk.
2. Perfectly Healthy for the Heart
Almond milk is not just cholesterol-free but also contains monounsaturated fats, which the American Heart Association claims are ideal for optimal heart health. Hence, you can conveniently substitute almond milk for cow’s milk that’s full of saturated fats.
3. Low-calorie Drink
Almond milk is called the dieters’ delight. It appeals to a majority of the calorie-watchers because of its low calories count. Reportedly, almond milk contains only 30 to 60 calories per serving. A study from the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders in 2003 suggests that making almonds part of a low-calorie, high-monounsaturated fat diet encourages faster weight loss in comparison to a low-calorie diet comprising of complex carbohydrates.
4. The Magical Riboflavin
When you mix almonds with water, some of the riboflavin found in almonds enters the drink. Also called vitamin B12, riboflavin facilitates the production of red blood cells and helps the body release energy from the carbohydrates that we consume explains the National Institutes of Health.
5. Prevents Cancer
A lesser known fact about almond milk is that it has cancer prevention properties. In a study published in 2011 in Nutrition and Cancer, researchers concluded that almond milk could help in suppressing prostate cancer cells.
This study conducted a comparative analysis of the onset of prostate and breast cancer cells in samples feeding on the organic cow, almond, and soy milk. Cow’s milk, the study revealed, stimulated the growth of prostate cancer cells whereas almond milk suppressed their growth by 30%. None of the milk could impact the growth of breast cancer cells. Soymilk, conversely, encouraged the growth of breast cancer cells.
Who Shouldn’t Drink Almond Milk?
Almond milk’s popularity is increasing day-by-day. It’s becoming the preferred choice of parents across the globe since more and more parents are feeding almond milk to their babies.
According to various studies, this is an unfavorable and somewhat dangerous trend. A survey conducted in 2014 and published in the French journal Archives of Pediatrics revealed that infants who were fed plant-based milk between the age of 4 to 14 months developed protein-calorie deficiency, hypoalbuminemia (a condition indicating low blood levels of a vital protein albumin), edema, anemia (iron deficiency), vitamin D deficiency, low growth rate, and many other developmental and nutritional issues. So dangerous is almond milk for babies that the researchers recommended implementation of legal measures to ban the feeding of plant-based milk to infants.
People Suffering from Tree Nut Allergy
Although almond milk doesn’t contain a lot of almonds, however, even the little amount of almonds that it contains is enough to stimulate serious allergic reactions in those suffering from almond allergy.
Typically, almond allergy is a sub-category of the tree nut allergy, which includes several nuts such as walnuts, cashews, and Brazil nuts, etc., and it can be severe. The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology claims that tree nut allergies can cause severe allergic reactions like anaphylaxis.
The main symptoms of almond allergy include diarrhea, abdominal pain, and nasal congestion, swallowing issues, runny nose, shortness of breath, nausea, and itching.
Drinking Almond Milk: Are there any Risks Involved?
In some brands of almond milk, manufacturers add a thickening agent called carrageenan. It’s a pretty common but very controversial thickener. Carrageenan is part of seaweed and is the common choice to add texture in products like ice cream.
If you don’t want to drink almond milk containing carrageenan, don’t forget to check the labels on the carton. Always select a brand that doesn’t add carrageenan in almond milk. You’ll better be safe than sorry!
Tip to remember- Almond milk’s protein content is quite low and if you choose to drink the low-calcium, unfortified variety, then do try to get protein and calcium from other sources.