Is almond milk really healthy? Or an expensive “health“ food that might harm you? The pros and cons of almond milk – all you need to know.
Almond milk has become a go-to healthy choice for many in the health and fitness community. This alternative certainly seems to be an improvement over the problematic category of dairy. But since it is a processed food, many questions still abound about its true nature. Is almond milk truly Paleo? Should you drink it on a regular basis? What are its benefits? What are its downsides? Below, we tackle all these questions (and more). So, buckle up!
What Is Almond Milk?
Almond milk can be made in a variety of ways, but the most common method is by blending almonds and water together. At this point, alarm bells might be going off in your head. You might be thinking “that’s it?” This brings us to the fact that almond milk is really quite simple to make on your own, and buying store-bought brands may not be the best option for you. In fact, store-bought almond milk often has carrageenan, which is not a great substance to be consuming if you want to avoid digestive troubles.
Almond milk can also be made by simply adding water to almond butter. While the texture here may be slightly different, it is essentially the same process.
Since almond milk lacks cholesterol and lactose, it has made a large impact on U.S.-based food markets.
Even vegans may find almond milk to be a regular indulgence.
Since cow’s milk has dominated U.S. markets for (seemingly) forever, it’s a nice change to have a few alternative choices. However, soy milk is not something Paleo dieters will want to consume, and there’s still a limited number of milk alternatives out there. Now that we’ve covered why almond milk has made such a big splash (pun intended), we must address the question of whether it is truly Paleo.
Is Almond Milk Paleo?
Here is where we move into a bit of a gray area. Almond milk is — ideally — just almonds and water. In that case, it would most certainly be Paleo. But commercially available almond milk sometimes includes a plethora of other ingredients. These brands would definitely not be Paleo. In fact, it is quite difficult to find almond milk without added gums, lecithins or other added ingredients.
Commercially available almond milks are also sometimes of dubious quality.
While most almond milks seem to be more thoughtfully prepared than traditional cow’s milk, that doesn’t mean they are all ideal. So to avoid these problems, simply make your own almond milk! You will also save large amounts of money this way, as almonds are not very expensive on their own (and especially when purchased in bulk).
How To Make Your Own Almond Milk
Making almond milk is very, very easy. While you can certainly complicate or add to the process, the basic formula is simple.
Start by soaking your almonds, which will make the digestion process much easier, as well as making the nutrients in the almonds more bioavailable. Once you’ve soaked them for your desired time (this may be between 24-48 hours), you will want to drain and rinse the almonds. Next, simply add the almonds to a blender, along with water (preferably filtered). Once blended, strain and press the almonds. And just like that – you are done!
Check out our Vanilla Caramel Almond Milk for a simple, tasty recipe!
The Benefits of Almond Milk
Once you get past all the smoke and mirrors of marketing, you will find that almond milk is beneficial because of the almonds! It’s not rocket science, right? That said, almonds are a very healthy choice, and pack a wallop of nutrition into very few calories. For example, almonds contain a nice dose of vitamin E, biotin, manganese, copper and vitamin B2 — among many other vital nutrients.
In addition, many scientific studies have linked almond consumption with a variety of health benefits. For example, almond consumption has been linked with lower cholesterol, lower body weight, glucose regulation, lower systemic inflammation, and less oxidative stress. Some studies have even shown that almond consumption plays a positive role in reducing the risk of degenerative diseases.
Can all of these benefits be obtained by simply eating almonds? Absolutely! In fact, you could enjoy a glass of water and grab a handful of almonds, and get the exact same nutritional profile. However, it is human nature to like a wide variety of foods and beverages, so adding in some almond milk to your daily mix is not going to hurt.
The Downsides of Almond Milk
The downsides of almond milk are actually more substantive than you might think. For one, if you are buying almond milk on a regular basis, you are likely spending way more money than you need to be. Making your almond milk is not only easy, it is very cheap, and only requires minimal equipment. So price is the first downside.
Second, if you’re not careful when buying almond milk, you will get hit with a nice list of artificial ingredients, sweeteners and digestion-disrupting bad guys. So make sure you purchase high-quality almond milk, where the only ingredients are organic almonds and water.
The third downside is that too much almond milk can be bad. As is the case with plain almonds, an excess of nuts can cause problems. The main reason is that nuts typically contain high amounts of omega-6 fats. Omega-6 is a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA). While it is essential to your body, because it helps to stimulate hair growth, skin growth, bone health, and even aids in your metabolic process, too much omega-6 is bad news.
In addition, while Paleo advocates are quick to discuss the downsides of phytic acid, they often don’t mention that nuts themselves are actually very high in phytic acid. Phytic acid is problematic for numerous reasons, and that’s why making your own almond milk starts with soaking the almonds, to help remove some of these issues.
Why is phytic acid so problematic? Well, it decreases mineral absorption, for starters. This means that vital things like iron aren’t very well absorbed, when consuming almonds. Humans also cannot digest phytic acid, which leads to unabsorbed zinc and other minerals, which phytic acid binds to.
Another downside of almond milk, still related to phytic acid, is that it interferes with vital enzymes. An example? Pepsin, which is a crucial element in breaking down proteins. It also interferes with other enzymes like amylase and trypsin. This is one of the reasons why it is not a good idea to drink too much almond milk or consume too many nuts (or nut-based products) in general.
Is Almond Milk Healthy?
If you are purchasing almond milk where the ingredients are just ground almonds and water, it is surely healthier than many choices.
In the grand scheme of things, almond milk is still a much better choice than anything found in the standard American diet (SAD).
The Western diet has been scientifically studied to be very bad for our health, so any small changes one can make to move away from it are welcomed. I would start with whole, regular almonds, and then use almond milk as an occasional treat. Always make sure you are purchasing the highest quality almond milk possible, of course — or make your own.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, the triumph of almond milk in the minds of most American consumers, has more to do with marketing and being a dairy-free alternative than it has to do with the nutritional benefits of almond milk itself. This doesn’t mean that almond milk still isn’t better than regular milk — it certainly is. But it also isn’t the Holy Grail of nutrition, either. It is best to add some almonds (or almond milk) into your diet on a semi-regular basis. You also can eat a very optimal Paleo diet without including almond milk at all.
And there you have it — the inside scoop on almond milk. Try making your own almond milk, and see how you like it. And another delicious almond treat is churning your own almond butter. But beware — it’s very easy to go overboard eating fresh, warm almond butter! As always, enjoy in moderation.