Over the last few years, there’s been a new contender in the dairy game, or rather the non-dairy game: almond milk. Almond milk has become seemingly more popular than any other non-dairy alternative before it. It has exploded onto the food scene and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere.
Found in nearly all supermarkets, most coffee shops, and many homes throughout North America, almond milk has been touted as the “healthier” alternative to regular cow milk, and that is actually true in some respects. Almond milk does contain more added nutrients than cow milk, is lactose free, and is lower in fat content, but that’s not the whole story.
Many automatically assume that because almond milk is called “milk” that the beverage is an overall substitute for cow milk, both in terms of taste, nutrition, and cost. That isn’t quite the case, so before you make the official switch, here are some facts to consider.
Next to no protein
Almonds, and nuts in general, are known for having a decent amount of protein in there. Same with cow milk, with a glass containing around 8 grams of protein. The same can’t be said for almond milk, as a 1 cup serving will only provide 1 gram of protein. Keep this in mind if you’re looking for a protein boost in a smoothie or shake.
You’re paying for water
So where does all the protein found in whole almonds go when its being made into almond milk? Nowhere really, the protein in the almonds just gets incredibly diluted by the added water. If you compare the nutritional info found in a cup of almonds to even a whole carton of almond milk, you’ll notice a stark difference in protein and calorie content because manufactures don’t really use that many almonds to make the milk. You’re mostly just paying for water.
A lack of calcium
One glass of milk can provide nearly a third of your daily quota of calcium, an essential nutrient in the formation and maintenance of healthy bones and muscles. Almond milk can have the same amount of calcium, if not more, but the calcium (along with many other vitamins) is typically added in, so make sure you check your nutrition labels. Some have even argued that the body better absorbs calcium and nutrients in comparison to plant-based milks like almond milk. Not a definite fact, but definitely something to consider.
Plain, unsweetened almond milk is pretty bland, which is why many manufacturers jazz up the flavour with added sugars, as is the case with vanilla or chocolate almond milk. The latter varieties are far more tasty, but have a much higher calorie content, and it can even be hard to tell which kind you’re getting because most varieties of almond milk boxes/cartons look the exact same (see Almond Breeze as an example). Again, check your label to ensure you’re not buying an almond milk that is actually higher in calories and sugars than cow milk.
Use of thickeners
A potentially harmful additive found in many mass-produced almond milks are “natural thickeners” like carrageenan. Produced red algae, the thickener has been linked to digestive problems and is even cited as being cancer-causing in some research. Find out more on carrageenan here. Soy lecithin is another commonly used thickener in almond milk also linked to gastrointestinal issues, though only in certain individuals.