Health Benefits of Almond Milk

The quality, cost, and nutrition can vary considerably, so you have to do some shopping to find the almond milk for you.

Nondairy and plant-based milk options can create great alternatives to your dairy favorites. In 2020, the most popular dairy alternative was almond milk.

Almond milk is made from almonds that have been soaked in water. The almonds are usually blended, and the liquid is strained to remove solids.

Almond milk may help you lower LDL cholesterol and manage weight while providing antioxidant protection through vitamin E. However, not all almond milks are the same; some offer more nutrition. Whether store-bought or homemade, almond milk can easily be incorporated into a wide range of recipes.

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Benefits of Almond Milk

Aside from water, the main ingredient in almond milk is almonds. Almonds are a good source of antioxidant vitamins; almond milk retains some of these.

Weight Management

Almonds and, by extension, almond milk can be beneficial to weight management. That's because almonds contain high amounts of monounsaturated fatty acids, or MUFAs. Evidence suggests that these fats may be helpful in weight management and loss.

Almond milk doesn't contain nearly as many of these MUFAs as raw almonds. To get the most out of these healthy fats, round off your diet with MUFAs from other sources like raw almonds, other nuts, and avocados.

Low LDL Cholesterol

Also called "bad" cholesterol, low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol makes up most of the cholesterol in your body. It is considered "bad" because it may raise your risk of heart disease and stroke.

The good news is that high levels of MUFAs in your diet may help you lower your LDL cholesterol levels. Almonds are just one example of foods that contribute to lower LDL cholesterol. Again, while it has some, almond milk doesn't have nearly as many MUFAs as straight-up almonds. So you'll also want to get these heart-healthy fats from other dietary sources.

Modifying your diet is one way to lower your LDL cholesterol, but not the only one. Form other healthy lifestyle habits by staying physical activity and not smoking to reduce health risks associated with high LDL cholesterol levels.

Antioxidant Effects

Almond milk is a good source of vitamin E, an antioxidant. Antioxidants are powerful substances that can help prevent or slow certain types of cell damage.

Vitamin E protects your body from free radicals that harm cells. It also supports your immune system and helps prevent blood clots.

Nutrition of Almond Milk

There's no one way to formulate almond milk. This can complicate the nutritional breakdown of almond milk, making it different for each product.

In its simplest form, almond milk consists mainly of water, so it's not that nutrient dense. The primary macronutrient you're getting is healthful fat. Here's your nutritional breakdown for 100 grams (less than half a cup) of plain, unsweetened almond milk that you can buy off the shelf:

  • Protein: 0.55 grams
  • Fat: 1.11 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 0.34 grams
  • Fiber: < 0.45 grams
  • Calcium: 173 milligrams
  • Magnesium: 6.8 milligrams
  • Phosphorus: 30 milligrams
  • Sodium: 60 milligrams
  • Vitamin E: 3.32 milligrams

Take note: Almond milk nutrition can vary widely from product to product, depending on how many almonds a particular milk contains. Different brands have different water-to-almond ratios. This can affect the beverage's health benefits—like the amounts of MUFAs and vitamin E.

Almond milks can also be fortified. That's when nutrients like vitamins and minerals that aren't naturally found in the product are added to the product. This can also change the nutritional content of almond milk.

Some almond milk brands are fortified with calcium, which can bump up the mineral's daily value to meet or exceed the amount in cow's milk. If they've been put into a product's formulation, vitamins D and B12 are other nutrients you may find in higher amounts in almond milk.

In addition, some companies add protein to almond milk, primarily pea protein sourced from yellow split peas. Whether these products still qualify as almond milk is up for debate.

Almond Milk vs. Dairy Milk

The main reason people choose plant milk is to avoid dairy, whether due to a dairy allergy, lactose intolerance, or a desire to eat a plant-based diet.

Dairy milks typically have higher levels of vitamin D and B12 than plant-based alternatives, even those fortified with these vitamins. Fortunately, you can get vitamin D and B12 from other sources if dairy is not in your diet.

You'll find more calories and carbohydrates in dairy milk than in plant-based milks like almond milk. Dairy milk also contains cholesterol, which is not present in plant-based varieties.

The fats in almond milk and dairy milk are different too. Dairy milk contains mostly saturated fat, whereas almond milk has heart-healthy unsaturated fats.

Almond milk has gained some criticism because almonds require relatively large amounts of water compared to plants for other non-dairy milks. Still, it's less than what it takes for dairy products. Producing dairy milk takes the most water and requires nine times as much land.

From a sustainability perspective, almond milk is a better choice than dairy. Plus, dairy production contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, pollution, and antibiotic resistance.

Almond Milk vs. Other Nondairy Milks

So now you may be wondering how almond milk stacks up against other non-dairy milks. Here's what scientists have been able to figure out.

Compared to other non-dairy milks, almond milk has the highest calcium levels. However, it still doesn't have as much calcium as cow's milk.

When it comes to sugar, almond beverages tend to have less than grain beverages, like rice and oats. They also have some of the highest amounts of vitamin B12. Plus, most almond beverages are low in sodium, at less than 5% of the daily value.

Risks of Almond Milk

It may seem obvious, but almond milk poses the most significant risk to people with an almond allergy. However, almond milk may contain less-than-desirable ingredients, even for people without a nut allergy.

Almond Allergy

Nut allergies usually don't go away and can be severe and life-threatening. If you have an almond allergy, avoid almond milk and consider another plant-based alternative, like oat or soy milk.

Also, check the label. You may want to opt for a different brand if the facility that made the almond milk processes other nuts as well.

Added Sugar

Several almond milks on the shelf are sweetened, especially flavored varieties like chocolate and vanilla. The amount of added sugar varies by brand. While some added sugar isn't necessarily a problem, too much can be.

On average, Americans get about twice as much sugar a day as recommended. Half of that added sugar comes from sugary drinks. Too much added sugar in your diet may increase your chances of developing the following diseases, in addition to cavities, inflammation, overeating, increased waist size, and skin aging and wrinkles:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Problems with thinking and memory, such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease
  • Colon cancer
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • High triglycerides
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Obesity
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Damage to your muscles, nerves, or the retina in your eye

The American Heart Association recommends nine teaspoons (36 grams) of added sugar a day for most men and six teaspoons (25 grams) for most women and children over age 2.

Other Unwanted Ingredients

Simple, recognizable ingredients are one driver of "clean" almond milk products. You'll find them by looking at the list of ingredients on the label.

In some almond milk products, you may find these unwanted additives:

  • Preservatives
  • Gums, such as gellan gum

Tips for Consuming Almond Milk

You can incorporate your almond milk of choice into nearly anything:

  • Use almond milk as creamer in your coffee.
  • Blend it into smoothies.
  • Add almond milk to oatmeal and overnight oats. Sprinkle with raw slivered almonds before serving to boost the content of heart-healthy fats.
  • Use it to make chia pudding and plant-based ice cream.
  • Incorporate unsweetened almond milk into savory dishes like creamy soups, sauces, mashed cauliflower or potatoes, and casseroles. Top off mashed cauliflower or potatoes and casseroles with raw chopped almonds to increase MUFAs.
  • Drink almond milk solo—warmed or chilled.
  • Use it as the base for golden turmeric milk or hot cocoa.

Healthiest Almond Milk

You can identify the healthiest almond milks by taking a peek at their labels. Select unsweetened varieties which don't come with added sugar. You can always sweeten at home by adding honey—a natural sweetener with health benefits.

Also, take a look at the list of ingredients. You may be surprised to spot add-ins in pricey almond milk. Again, there's no standard formulation, so reading ingredient lists is key.

Making Your Own Almond Milk

Making your almond milk at home may be easier than you think. You can make it from homemade recipes, which typically call for one part almonds and three parts water.

There are even simpler options as well. So you don't have to start entirely from scratch; some companies sell almond pastes and frozen wedges. You can mix these bases with water to make your almond milk. Experiment with the ratio of almond base to water to find the optimal mixture for your tastes and nutritional needs.

A Quick Review

Almond milks are a lot like jeans—the quality, cost, and details can vary considerably, so you have to shop to find the right one for you. Look for brands with simple, recognizable ingredients. You may even want to go for almond milk bases that you mix with water yourself.

The higher the ratio of almonds to water, the more nutritional value you'll get out of the beverage. Watch out for added sugars and other unwanted ingredients on product labels.

As a great alternative to dairy, unsweetened fortified almond milk offers heart-healthy and antioxidant benefits. Incorporate more almond milk into your diet by drinking it on its own, adding it to other beverages, or substituting it for dairy milk in your favorite recipes.

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