Dr Mercola–Thousands of people have tried one or more of the various alternative-to-cow’s-milk offerings that have been proliferating on store shelves over the last several years, including rice milk, coconut milk, soy milk (which has its own issues) — even hemp and flax milks. As nut milks go, there’s hazelnut and cashew milk, but arguably the most popular is almond milk.
Regardless of whether it’s “original” or wears labels like vanilla or organic or advertises a calorie count on the front, there’s a debate not only about the nutritive value of almond milk but what it requires to make it almond milk.
One of the most recent reasons for the discussion is the probe concerning the number of almonds manufacturers use in a half-gallon carton. As Superfoodly quips, “a decade ago when you bought almond milk, it seems there was a higher likelihood that the actual nut was the first ingredient listed after water,”1 but that’s not always the case.
It turns out that many of the companies manufacturing almond milk aren’t in the habit of divulging how much of the nut they actually put in their “milk” products. U.S. labeling requirements don’t require such disclosure. Then a lawsuit filed in 2015 accused Blue Diamond Growers of fraud, as their almond milk allegedly contained only 2 percent almonds. The plaintiffs ferreted out the percentage of almonds the company used by comparing it with a similar product produced in the U.K. NaturalHealth365 explains:
“Dimitrios Malaxianis and Tracy Albert are suing Blue Diamond Growers, the largest almond processor and marketer in operation at this time. The civil suit claims that Blue Diamond’s Almond Breeze almond milk product has been fraudulently advertised and given the illusion that it contains a substantial amount of almond milk, when this is far from the case.”2
A spokesperson for the Almond Board of California3 said most almond milks offer similar combinations of ingredients in both the U.S. and the U.K. AltHealthWorks contends that while almond milk isn’t loaded with the potential horrors you’ll find in the poorest examples of conventionally produced, factory farmed milk, such as growth hormones and antibiotics, the problem with almond milk is there’s nothing much healthy about it; it contains no more than a handful of almonds. But is that characterization really true?
Good Stuff and Bad Stuff About Dairy Milk Alternatives
Reasons for choosing almond milk over conventionally produced milk often start with dairy milk allergies. Almond milk quickly established itself as a healthy alternative to what AltHealthWorks calls “mass-produced dairy products [that] are simply a mucus-causing, disease-fueling cocktail marketed as the would-be saviors to fight osteoporosis.” All that may be true of mass-produced milksold at the local supermarket. However:
“How much almond is actually in almond milk? Most manufacturers refuse to answer that question. But from their ingredient labels we do know they are using thickening agents like carrageenan and guar gum, along with emulsifiers like lecithin, which may help disguise how few nuts they’re actually using.”4
Dr. Joanne Tobacman, a “veteran” carrageenan researcher, notes that it’s often responsible for initiating inflammation, which can lead to bleeding ulcers, ulcerative colitis and even trigger diabetes. Carrageenan, Superfoodly explains, is ared seaweed extract that’s become controversial due to research suggesting it may cause gastrointestinal inflammation and other nasty side effects.”5
Many food manufacturers add it to yogurt, frozen dinners, chocolate, soups and ice cream, as well as nutritional supplements and other milk replacement products to give it the right consistency and keep it from separating. People with Crohn’s, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other autoimmune diseases are advised to avoid it, as it can initiate gut problems ranging from inflammation to cancer. Prevention notes:
“Although derived from a natural source, carrageenan appears to be particularly destructive to the digestive system, triggering an immune response similar to that your body has when invaded by pathogens like Salmonella.”6
Other thickening agents you might find in almond milk include xantham gum, locust bean gum, gellan gum and acacia gum. However, the almond milk produced by the top two brands, Silk and Blue Diamond, are (presently) lauded as being GMO free (aka not genetically “tampered with”) and (at least in the U.S.) carrageenan free, according to Healthy Eater.7
Ingredients in Almond Milk Besides Almonds
According to Food Network,8 one serving of almonds is a “handful,” equal to about one-quarter cup. Laid flat, that amount can fit on a 3-by-3-inch sticky note. Almonds provide a wide range of nutrients and antioxidants that include flavonoids and phenolic acids. The nutritional benefits offered include:
- 6 grams of protein
- 3.5 grams of fiber
- 14 grams of heart-healthy unsaturated fat
- 1.1 grams of saturated fat — a good thing
- 75 micrograms (mg) of calcium
According to Business Insider:
“A typical serving of almonds has 160 calories per serving. By comparison, a cup of almond milk contains just about 30 calories. And while a serving of almonds has 14 grams of total fat and 6 grams of protein, a serving of the milk has 2.5 grams of fat and just 1 gram of protein.
In other words, a single serving of almond milk has almost no protein. Compared with plain old almonds, it fares even worse. There is one place where almond milk comes out on top, of course: It has more potassium and more of the vitamins A and D. But almond milk is fortified with these nutrients — they’ve been added during the production process.”9
Nutrition Data10 notes that a daily serving (1 ounce) of almonds provides healthy daily reference intake (DRI) percentages in:
- Vitamin E (tocopherol) — 37 percent
- Riboflavin — 17 percent
- Magnesium — 19 percent
- Manganese — 32 percent
As for “almond milk,” the bottom line is that if an entire half-gallon carton like Blue Diamond’s plain and unsweetened variety contains only around 30 almonds, that means there’s only 1 gram of protein in an 8-ounce glass and not much else, nutrition wise, to speak of.11At the end of the day, in regard to nutrition, you’d have to drink an entire carton of almond milk in one sitting to get the same nutrients contained in a handful of almonds.
Almond Milk: Label and Product Tweaking
Other popular almond milk producers are finding ways to answer consumer complaints by tweaking their product. In at least one case, it’s how they label their product. Superfoodly reports that soon after Blue Diamond Growers asked for a stay in the legal process after agreeing to a nationwide settlement, Trader Joe’s, which has its own version of the product, changed its label to call it an “almond beverage.” Further:
“Now to be clear, no one knows for sure how many almonds are in Silk almond milk, or Blue Diamond, or So Delicious. Not even the more expensive brands like Califia Farms or New Barn disclose that data. Even today, there is still not proof of exactly what percentage of these products is the namesake ingredient.”12
The percentage of almonds used in Alpro, an almond milk manufacturer in Belgium, is right on the label at 2 percent, so conjecture has it that other companies, including those in the U.S., may be quite similar. For comparison, cow’s milk that you buy at the store contains an approximate ratio of 85 percent milk.
Further, milk alternatives tend to be augmented just like real milk is with vitamin D. Plant-based milk alternative Silk adds calcium carbonate, while Almond Breeze puts in that along with potassium citrate to improve the calcium balance in the body, a multiple university study explains.13 Most brands add calcium, as well.
The Benefits of (Real) Grass Fed Milk and Nutrition-Packed Nuts
Perhaps you’re aware of the problems with milk produced in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOS) — gigantic facilities fraught with contamination and cruelty to animals — but would be interested in gaining the benefits of what “real” grass fed milkprovides, such as natural immune boosters and good bacteria that the pasteurization process destroys.
It’s interesting that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) use both fear tactics and misinformation when they caution that raw milk might carry disease-causing bacteria, while at the same time deliberately overlooking the fact that these bacteria are common in diseased CAFO animals as a direct result of industrial farming practices.
Truth be told, many people should not consume dairy whether it is raw or pasteurized, as they are allergic to the milk proteins. Additionally, if you’re insulin resistant, you would likely be better off avoiding raw and pasteurized milk, as it contains the dairy sugar lactose, which can worsen insulin/leptin resistance. If you’re unable to drink raw, pastured, organic milk due to allergies, almond milk can present a relatively tasty alternative.
However, if it’s protein you’re after (often grossly over-indulged via excessive consumption of meat), Harvard Health indicates that a 50-year-old, 140-pound woman should eat about 53 grams of protein a day.14 I recommend limiting protein to about 40 to 70 grams per day, depending on your lean body mass. Remember, the average American consumes anywhere from three to five times as much protein as they need.
Comparing almond milk with the nutrition almonds and other nuts provide, the choice is clear. Your best bet nutritionally is to add a healthy portion of nuts to your diet. They’re the perfect traveling food and easy to place in a baggie in your pocket, your pocketbook, car console, gym bag or sack lunch.