Wow – This topic is clearly something that got people’s interest. I had a few emails, comments, shares and even real live people who told me they had no idea about the truth regarding commercial almond milks at the grocery store. If you missed my last post, check it out here:
BOTTOM LINE: The milk you choose is just one small component of your overall diet. Which one you choose is much less important than how many fruits and vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds you eat. If you consume 4-5 cups combined of fruits and vegetables, I really don’t care what milk you drink!!! See the big picture. Make your milk pick and move on. And be educated about it.
The thing that most shocked both myself and Intern Lora in doing research for the last article was the lack of nutrients in the almond “milk.” I had assumed (lesson learned…. AGAIN!), that if the milk was being promoted as an alternative to dairy milk, or soymilk, that it would at least come close in nutrient profile.
However, I feel that a follow up to that article is needed. I had some people with the following questions:
- I’m not using it as a protein source, is it bad for me?
- Are you saying it’s just white colored water?
- I just like how creamy it is, can I still drink it?
- I just use it in smoothies.
- What if I drink unsweetened?
Let’s get straight to the issues. When we choose a food to eat, there are a few things to keep in mind.
- FOOD SHOULD NOURISH YOU! It surprises me how often I have to remind people that the purpose of eating is to nourish our bodies. So if you’re objectively trying to decide on whether something is worth purchasing, you need to evaluate what the item can bring to the table. For more on this concept, read my article here: This is What’s Wrong With America’s Diet!
- Secondarily (yes – this is purposefully in this order), you want to evaluate if there is anything in the item that you prefer to ‘limit’ or avoid.
Obviously, there are other reasons we eat (boredom, lonely, happy, etc.), but for now we’re just going to focus on whether something is nourishing or not.
When it comes to commercialized almond milk, here’s how it stacks up:
- 30 (if unsweet) – 120 (if sweetened) calories
- 3 grams fat
- 0g saturated fat
- 1-23g carbohydrate (depending on whether it is sweet or unsweet)
- 0g fiber
- 1 gram protein
- Most of the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) in the commercial almond milk is added synthetically after the fact
To put this in perspective, almonds are a nutritious source of healthy fats, fiber, vitamin E, potassium and protein. Almond milk has none of this. That makes me shake my head!
As a reminder, this is the nutrient profile for 1% milk:
- 100 calories
- 2 grams fat
- 1.5 grams saturated fat
- 11g carbohydrate
- 0g fiber
- 8 grams protein
- In addition, it provides 10% vit A, 30% calcium and 25% vit D
So let’s get back to the Q&A from above. Here are my thoughts:
Q: I’m not using it as a protein source, is it bad for me?
A: I think this is a fair point. If you are using almond milk simply as a creamer for your coffee, or just to add to a simple dish you are cooking, then it’s really not going to have a significant impact on your overall nutrition intake. In this case, it wouldn’t matter so much to me what you choose! Whole milk, soymilk, creamer, whatever. Because you are using such small amounts. I would think there might be a more economical creamer, but that’s beside the point!
The other issue to consider in this case is what they use for additives. If 1 cup of the almond “milk” contains mostly water, 4 almonds, sugar and a bunch of thickeners and synthetic nutrients, there’s not a whole lot you’re getting out of it. However, if it really is just a small amount each day, it probably doesn’t matter.
Q: Are you saying it’s just white colored water?
A: This question came from someone via email. I felt badly, because I didn’t mean to discourage her from enjoying her almond milk! The truth is that all milk is mostly water. Some milk comes with more nutrients than others. In the case of the commercialized almond “milk”, it is being advertised as a non-dairy milk substitute. I have a problem with this. If it is going to be a substitute, it should have a similar nutrient profile. Having only 1g of protein, no calcium and added sugars (for the sweetened kinds), does not come close to being a substitute.
The average American consumes cereal for breakfast and milk is their only source of protein at that meal. Want to know more about how much protein to have at breakfast? Check out my article here.
The way I see it, the commercialized almond “milk” is mainly thickeners mixed in water with 4 almonds and some added synthetic nutrients. It feels very much like a processed food.
Shouldn’t there be a standard for what is allowed to be called milk? Or what is allowed to be called almond? Almonds are a very nutritious food! But drinking 4 almonds mixed in water is NOT even close to eating 23 nuts (a serving of almonds). But that’s food marketing for you. It’s a fine line between marketing and selling lies and deceit.
Q: I just like how creamy it is, can I still drink it?
A: It’s creamy because they add creamy thickeners to it. It’s not creamy because they made it creamy with almonds. If you’re not using that much, go ahead, but otherwise I would find another creamy fix for your taste buds. Something that’s based on food. Like yogurt, or peanut butter! Ahem… or almond butter. 🙂
Q: I just use it in smoothies.
A: If you like almond milk in smoothies, it would be better on your budget and more nutritious to put almond butter and make up the fluid with water. Then you don’t have a bunch of artificial thickeners and sweeteners in your smoothie. I would think you probably want some protein in your smoothie, and we’ve established that the commercial almond milk is not a good source of protein, so a better choice would be dairy milk, soymilk, kefir or yogurt. And you don’t need the sweeteners from the almond milk in smoothies because it should be plenty sweet with the fruit! Check out my Tried and True Green Smoothie Recipe here!
Q: What if I drink unsweetened?
A: Obviously drinking it unsweet will help to remove the added sweeteners. Most people will not like it unsweet. But if you don’t mind it, good for you! In the case of unsweet almond milk, it does have less sugar, but still doesn’t have any more of any other nutrient you might be looking for in milk… or almonds.
Make your own almond milk with just 3 simple ingredients!!
OK – so after all of this discussion and research, Intern Lora and I thought – can we make almond milk at home and have it be a nutritious choice? After thinking through the idea I had above for smoothies (add almond butter and water), I thought – can’t we just make almond milk with almond butter? And what better way to add a bit of sweet than with a date, which adds fiber in addition to sweetness. BRILLIANT – I’m pretty proud of us! We’re probably not the first, but that’s ok. 🙂
Here’s how it turned out: I thought it was tasty, my husband, my 4 year old and my mother-in-law gave their seal of approval. Do I expect to use this milk in place of dairy milk (for me?) or soymilk (for my husband?). Nope! But it’s fun and I can see us having it on occasion. It is a great way to get healthy fats, fiber, potassium and a bit of protein (5X the commercialized almond milk). It certainly isn’t low calorie, but it’s not too much more than 1% dairy milk.
Here’s the nutrition breakdown:
- 150 calories
- 12.5 grams fat (7.5g of this is monounsaturated fat – the healthy kind that helps increase HDL “good” cholesterol)
- 1.1 grams saturated fat
- 21g carbohydrate (all from the dates)
- 4g fiber (more than a bowl of cheerios!)
- 5 grams protein (5X commercial almond milk)
- In addition, it provides 6% of potassium, 7% of calcium and 6% of iron
Here’s the recipe! And the photo is my completed product. I was pretty proud. 🙂
- 3 T almond butter (salted or unsalted)
- 2 medjool dates (tear into small pieces and remove pit - duh!)
- 2 cups water
- Place in blender and mix until everything is pulverized and mixed well!
Let me know what you think! Next article we will explore cashew milk and another DIY recipe.