July 18, 2012:
Got Almond Milk? You probably do. It’s not just for hippies and vegans
anymore. First came the soy milk, then
the rice milk… it was only a matter of time before hungry Americans started
fiending for the next non-dairy alternative to the old dairy standby. Almond milk has arrived and it’s making its
way into supermarkets everywhere and gaining on sales for traditional kinds of
But wait just a second here.
Almonds? Milk? Last time I checked, almonds didn’t have
udders. What the heck is it,
exactly? And is this nutty drink really
as healthy as it’s cracked up to be?
First, A Few
Almond milk’s posted the biggest dollar sales gains among all dairy
alternative beverages in 2011. Sales of almond milk increased by 79 percent
last year and the drink now accounts for 21 percent of the retail market for
dairy alternative beverages.
Almond milk is made by blending together a mixture of finely
ground almonds, water and sometimes sugar or other sweeteners (some brands make
both unsweetened and sweetened varieties…more on that later). It’s actually mostly water by weight, which
means it doesn’t pack in nearly as much nutrition as a handful of whole
almonds. In fact, by my calculations, one cup of almond milk contains the
equivalent of only 4 to 5 almonds.
With its high water content, almond milk can taste kind of
thin and runny. On the other hand, you
might really love its nutty, mild flavor. In fact, some people find almond milk
to be less chalky than rice and soy varieties.
Is It Good For You?
Sure! Unsweetened almond milk is
a low-calorie beverage — just 40 cals per cup — and it’s a
terrific non-dairy choice for people who are vegan, have dairy allergies, or are
just looking to change things up in their cereal, smoothies or coffee.
The unsweetened varieties are low in carbs (just 2 grams per
serving) and contain no sugar. And almond milk is completely lactose-free, so
it’s a safe choice for folks who avoid cow’s milk because of a lactose
intolerance. Plus, it contains none of the unhealthy saturated fat found in
whole milk, just a few grams of heart-healthy fats. Here’s some more good news:
most almond milks are fortified with the same amounts of calcium and vitamin D
you find in cow’s milk, so you still get those important bone-building nutrients
from your milk beverage. As with other fortified milks like soy, you just want
to make sure to shake the carton before pouring, since some of the added
calcium can settle at the bottom of the package.
A Couple of Drawbacks
Compared to other milks, almond milk is significantly lower in protein.
One cup has just 1 gram of protein compared to dairy milk, which serves up 8
grams per cup, and soy milk, which delivers 6 to 7 grams of protein per cup. Of
course, that’s not an issue as long as you’re getting your protein from other
And be wary of the sweetened varieties — they’re more like a dessert than a milk
beverage. A cup of sweetened vanilla almond milk has about 4 teaspoons of sugar,
and a serving of the chocolate will pump 5 teaspoons into your system. Yikes
— that’s basically a mug of rich hot cocoa without the whipped cream!
And of course all that extra sugar means extra calories — up to three
times as many calories as a glass of the unsweetened stuff.
If you prefer the vanilla- or chocolate-flavored blends,
you’re in luck because some brands sell them as UNsweetened versions, which
give you the dreamy taste without any extra sugar or calories in the mix. Just
be sure to look for “Unsweetened” on the label. These unsweetened flavored
varieties are delicious in smoothies…. try blending the chocolate version with frozen
banana chunks and peanut butter or vanilla with berries and yogurt. Yum!
Is Almond Milk
Sure is, if we’re talking about the unsweetened versions and you’re making sure to buy a
brand that’s fortified with calcium and Vitamin D. But really, whether or not you should stock
almond milk in your kitchen comes down to personal taste, and there’s certainly
no reason to make the switch if you prefer soy, skim or 1% low-fat milk.
Now that you know what the heck you’re drinking, go ahead and
enjoy every sip!
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