Almond milk is a delicious alternative for anyone looking for a healthy way to cut down on dairy products, avoid animal products, consume fewer calories, or simply try something new.
At the most basic level, almond milk is water that has had ground almonds infused into it. Specifically, the almonds are soaked for an extended period and then drained. Next, the almonds are blended into more water, creating a solution with a consistency similar to milk. The almond skin and pieces are then filtered out. This results in a tasty, nutritious beverage that forms an excellent plant-based alternative to dairy milk.
Although almond milk is called “milk”—and it can be found in the dairy aisle in stores—it is not actually a dairy product. Vegans and those who are lactose intolerant can enjoy almond milk without fear, as can anyone who prefers something other than soy milk.
Nutritional Profile of Almond Milk
People who drink almond milk may worry about missing the nutrients that dairy milk contains. This fear can be eased by taking a proper look at how the nutrients of almond milk stack up.
A single cup, about eight fluid ounces, of almond milk contains 60 calories. The total fat content is 2.5 grams (g), with no saturated or trans fats being present. Almond milk contains no cholesterol, around 150 milligrams (mg) of sodium, 8 g of carbohydrates and 1 g of dietary fiber. Lastly, it has 1 g of protein, 200 mg of calcium, and 180 mg of potassium.
In comparison, the same serving of skim milk contains 91 calories. Although skim milk contains only 0.6 g of fat, 0.4 g of that amount is saturated and also comes with 5 mg of cholesterol. Skim milk has 130 mg of sodium and 12.3 g of carbohydrates—all of which comes from sugars—and no fiber. Finally, one cup of skim milk contains 8.7 g of protein, 316.1 mg of calcium, and 419 mg of potassium.
As you can see, almond milk has fewer calories and is better for anyone worried about cholesterol, saturated fats, or carbs. It is slightly better for fiber, but does have less protein, calcium, and potassium. Keep in mind that these values are only for the raw milks themselves. Almond milk purchased in-store is often fortified with extra nutrients, so pay attention to the labels and packaging.
Other Benefits of Almond Milk
Most of the fat found in nuts, and therefore almond milk, are of the monosaturated variety. A few different studies have been done on the health effects of swapping nuts in place of carbohydrates and saturated fat, with a comprehensive review of the literature being performed in 1999. The results are quite encouraging. The review estimated that substituting an ounce of nuts for the equivalent amount of energy from carbohydrates in the average diet could produce a 30% reduction in coronary heart disease risk. If the nuts were substituted in place of saturated fat, the reduction became 45%. This means that drinking almond milk can become part of a more comprehensive diet effort for a healthier heart.
Additionally, dairy milk is known to contain estrogen, which is capable of stimulating hormone-sensitive tumors like those found in prostate cancer. A 2011 study compared the effects of almond milk, dairy milk, and soy milk on prostate and breast cancer cells. Dairy milk produced an average of 30% increase in growth, while almond milk produced 30% suppression in prostate cancer cells. Unfortunately, no interaction was noted for breast cancer, save that soy milk seemed to stimulate growth.
Some of the nutrients from almonds are absorbed by the water during the creation process. Almond milk is known to contain additional nutrients like magnesium, selenium, and vitamin E. Magnesium helps digestion by aiding the conversion of food into energy, and it also stimulates the parathyroid glands that promote bone health. Selenium is an immune supporter and helps fight off pathogens. Vitamin E has antioxidant properties and is a useful tool in eliminating free radicals within the body.
Almond Milk Is Not for Everyone
Although it has numerous benefits and is an overall healthier option, almond milk is not advisable for everyone. Babies in particular should not be given almond milk as a substitute for breast milk or formula. This is because the limited dietary options available to a baby means they are more reliant on the nutritional content of milk and have fewer means to make it up elsewhere. As a 2014 study noted, infants who were given almond or soy milk between four and 14 months of age exhibited numerous nutritional deficits. These included iron deficiency anemia, vitamin D deficiencies, low blood levels of albumin (an important protein), and signs of protein deficiency. If you have a baby, it’s best to either supplement almond milk with breast milk or formula, or wait until they’re a little bit older and have access to broader nutritional sources.
Since almond milk is made with almonds, it can also pose an allergy risk. Almond milk doesn’t contain a lot of almonds, but it is still essentially a nut product. Anyone with a tree nut allergy may experience a reaction to drinking almond milk. The nature of the reaction will differ from person to person, but common symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, congestion, nausea, itchiness, and shortness of breath. In extreme cases, anaphylaxis can occur and will require immediate medical attention.
How to Make Your Own Almond Milk
Almond milk can actually be made at home using a simple recipe. First, take a cup-and-a-half of almonds and soak them uncovered in water overnight (about eight to 12 hours). Next, drain and discard the water you soaked them in. Rinse the almonds out and put them in a blender with two to three cups of fresh water. Blend on high. Strain using a piece of cheesecloth to filter out the almond particles. Lastly, feel free to add vanilla or cinnamon to taste. When made in this manner, almond milk should be drunk within two days of making. Enjoy!
Sources for Today’s Article:
“Almond Milk Nutritional Facts,” Fitday web site; http://www.fitday.com/fitness-articles/nutrition/calories/almond-milk-nutritional-facts.html, last accessed September 14, 2015.
“How many calories in Almond Milk,” Calorie King web site; http://www.calorieking.com/foods/calories-in-nut-drinks-almond-milk_f-ZmlkPTk4NDE1.html, last accessed September 14, 2015.
“How many calories in Nonfat Milk,” Calorie King web site; http://www.calorieking.com/foods/calories-in-milk-flavored-milk-nonfat-milk_f-ZmlkPTY4NzE0.html, last accessed September 14, 2015.
“How to Make Almond Milk,” WikiHow web site; http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Almond-Milk, last accessed September 14, 2015.
Hu, F.B. et al., “Nut Consumption and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: A Review of Epidemiologic Evidence,” Current Atherosclerosis Reports, 1991; 1(3): 204-09.
Le Louer, B, et al., “[Severe Nutritional Deficiencies in Young Infants with Inappropriate Plant Milk Consumption],” Les Archives de Pédiatrie, 2014; 21(5): 483-88, doi:10.1016/j.arcped.2014.02.027.
Tate, P.L, et al., “Milk Stimulates Growth of Prostate Cancer Cells in Culture,” Nutrition and Cancer, 2011; 63(8): 1361-366.