As discussed in the first of this series, “milk” from plant sources is so only in spirit. Having said that, almond milk is a popular alternative to cows milk. Essentially, it is produced by blending almonds with water followed by straining it remove the solid bits, creating a creamy, nutty liquid. The popularity of almond milk started to rise in the beginning of this century, surpassing the sale of soy milk in 2013.
You can read my take on the pros and cons of cow’s milk in the previous post.
The Upside: Unsweetened almond milk has about 40 calories per serving, which is a third of those from whole cow’s milk. Just like soy milk, being derived from a plant source makes it naturally cholesterol free. Total calories are low because almond milk has both less sugar and no saturated fat. Almond milk is acceptable as part of a Vegan diet and also allowed in a Keto diet. In the same vein, almond milk is OK for someone with milk protein allergy or lactose intolerance.
Eating nuts is good for our cardio-vascular health– which means it lowers our chances of having a heart attack or stroke. Drinking almond milk also offers the same benefits. It does this by having lots of Oleic acid which is a healthy (aka monounsaturated) fatty acid linked with improved lipid profile ( although the credibility of the “normal” ranges of a lipid profile may be debated but that is for another time). Almond milk also has a lot if Vitamin E. Vitamin E is popular for being an antioxidant and antioxidants have a whole slew of health benefits including glowing skin.
The flip side: Although almond milk wins in the carbs and fats category, it falls flat when the proteins round come along. Per serving Almond milk contains less than a fourth the amount of proteins present in cow’s milk. Unfortified almond milk is not a good source of calcium. While there are a bunch of minerals in Almond milk, some of them are not absorbed as well as those found in cow’s milk. This is partly because almonds contain phytic acid that reduces the absorption of iron, zinc, and magnesium by binding to them in the gut.
I just gave you a glowing review of eating almonds and it is true that almond milk offers the benefits of consuming almonds. However, there is a catch. You would have to drink an unmanageably large amount of almond milk to extract such benefits. Almond milk contains 2% of actual almonds per volume. After some very fancy calculations, this boils down to 2-3 almonds per serving! In order to acquire the goodness of almonds, it is recommended you eat a handful or about 1oz of almonds. This comes to roughly 25 nuts per day. This means you will have to drink a half-gallon carton of milk every day to get enough almonds.
There are controversial issues related to the sustainability of almond production. One pound of almonds needs 300-400 gallons of water to grow. Considering there are 300-400 almonds (sometimes the math is convenient), 1 almond needs 1 gallon of water. USA produces the lion’s share of almonds in the world and most of it is grown in California, a state that is fighting water shortage
The take-away: The bottom line is, if you don’t want to or cannot drink cow’s milk or even soy milk, unfortified almond milk may not be the way to go. Also, you have to be careful about added sugar which takes away from the low glycemic index (does not make blood sugar level shoot) property of almond milk