A Dollars and Sense Take on What to Expect from This Popular Drink.
Let me be clear from the beginning. I love my almond milk. I discovered it when I was switching to a healthier way of eating and have never looked back. The key though, as I will explain, is that I use it as a vehicle for other healthy ingredients. I do not expect it to be the ultimate healthy ingredient in and of itself. That’s where I think a lot of confusion lies for many people and why I wanted to look at the pros and cons of almond milk while offering a dollars and sense take on what to expect from this popular drink.
What is Almond Milk?
At its core, almond milk is almonds and water. That’s it. That’s all you need to make it. Completely contrary to those who malign it as the newest “trendy” health drink, almond milk has been around since medieval times1, and yes, it was called ‘milk’ even at that point.
Because there are so few ingredients, making almond milk is incredibly easy. This recipe from Minimalist Baker (which I recommend if you are making your own) calls for soaking almonds overnight, adding water, blending and then straining.
In addition to almonds and water, commercially-made almond milk usually contains gums as thickeners and stabilizers as well as various other additives used to fortify it with vitamins and minerals.
Overall though, it’s almonds and a little to a lot more water.
Nutritional Value of Almond Milk
Almond milk sounds like it should be really healthy. It’s made from super healthy almonds – right? But, unfortunately, if you weight the pros and cons of almond milk, it’s not quite as simple as that.
For those who can’t or don’t consume dairy or who simply want to cut down on it, almond milk is a great alternative. You can use it for baking, you can drink it straight or you can make delicious smoothies with it. You just have to know that whether you make your own or buy it from a store, almond milk is not going to have the same health benefits as eating whole almonds.
That’s because it’s strained and the pulp, which contains many of the vital nutrients, is not used. It’s also watered down and isn’t as nutritionally concentrated as whole almonds. If you have a recipe that uses 1 cup of almonds to 2 cups of water, you’ll have a higher concentration of nutrients than you would if you use 1 cup of almonds with 5 or more cups of water, but it’s all going to be diluted, nonetheless. Commercially-made almond milk is usually going to be on the higher water content side.
As a point of reference, 1 oz of whole almonds contains 6 g of protein and many vitamins and minerals2. In contrast, half a cup of our homemade almond milk contains 1.1 g of protein and the vitamin and mineral content has been watered down or stripped through the straining process. Half a cup of commercial almond milk usually contains .5 g of protein.
On the other hand, commercially fortified almond milk contains plenty of vitamins and minerals and is definitely a way to make sure that they are a regular part of your diet. It is important to note that while added vitamins and minerals are fine, additional sugar is not. Be sure and buy almond milk that specifically says unsweetened. If it doesn’t, you’re getting added sugar, which works against any health benefits that it may be providing.
How I Use Almond Milk
As I mentioned, almond milk played a major role in my starting to eat healthier. Once I learned what a green smoothie was, I was off and running. Since many smoothie recipes call for almond or some other type of non-dairy milk, I automatically started incorporating it into my diet. At this point, I primarily use almond milk for my smoothies and protein shakes, and on average, go through about 60 oz per week.
As I weigh the pros and cons of almond milk for myself, here’s where I land. Since I use the commercially-made variety, I know that while the vitamins and minerals that it’s fortified with are helpful, its nutritional value is limited. But that’s not what I use it for. I use it as a way to start my day with a huge helping of greens, other vegetables, sometimes fruit and various seeds. That’s where the nutrition is packed. The almond milk is just a vehicle for blending it all together.
I’ve tried only using water in my smoothies, but I need the little bit of thickness that the almond milk provides to make it go from just okay to something that I enjoy drinking and crave every day.
Used in this way, there is no pretense that the almond milk itself is giving me a huge nutritional boost. The fact that it’s enabling me to get in up to five different vegetables and fruit for breakfast is where its power lies.
Store Bought vs Homemade – Dollars and Sense
I’m all about using my food dollars to buy the cleanest and most nutritious ingredients possible for food that I will make myself, but when it comes to weighing the pros and cons of almond milk, I have to factor in the dollars and sense of store bought versus homemade.
Whether you’re talking about commercially-made or homemade, you do want to make sure that organic almonds are involved because nuts easily absorb pesticides even through their shells3. Keeping that in mind, I certainly can’t say that making homemade almond milk is cheaper than store bought. Given the diluted health benefits of both, I also can’t say that I think making homemade is the most effective use of those food dollars – at least for me.
Since raw organic almonds normally cost around $11.50 for a pound, and the Minimalist Baker recipe calls for 8 oz of almonds to make 40 oz of almond milk, it would cost me $8.62 to make my 60 oz that I use each week. On the other hand, organic almond milk from Sprouts costs me $3.69 for 64 oz. That’s a $5.02 difference each week between buying store bought or homemade.
While you definitely have more control over the ingredients if you make homemade, I’m actually okay with the ingredients in the organic store-bought versions. That’s especially true since most commercially-made almond milks in the U.S. no longer contain carrageenan4, which was a concern. If you try almond milk and find that you’re having stomach issues, you may want to consider making your own because most, if not all of the commercially-made versions contain gums, which can cause stomach problems in some people5.
I’m also okay with store bought almond milk because it’s one of the only highly processed foods I eat. Except for the occasional flour tortillas or tortilla chips, everything else is either minimally processed or whole foods.
Bottom Line in Weighing the Pros and Cons of Almond Milk
When weighing the pros and cons of almond milk, you need to consider how you’re using it and what you expect from it. As long as you know what it is and what it isn’t and the realities of homemade versus store bought, you’ll be able to make an informed decision that’s right for you.
- Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/nut-milks-are-milk-says-almost-every-culture-across-globe-180970008/
- FoodData Central. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170567/nutrients
- World Wellness Education. http://www.worldwellnesseducation.org/nuts-and-seeds/
- Food and Function Journal. Revisiting the Carrageenan Controversy: Do We Really Understand the Digestive Fate and Safety of Carrageenan in our Foods? Shlomit, David; Carmit Shani Levi; Lulu Fahoum; Yael Ungar; Esther G. Meyron-Holtz; Avi Shpigelman; and Uri Lesmes https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2018/FO/C7FO01721A#!divAbstract
- Gums: Is There a Danger Lurking in Your Food? https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/6840/gums-is-there-danger-lurking-in-your-food