Product review: almond milk

AlmondMilkSoy milk is so last year.  According to a report from Bloomberg Businessweek, almond milk accounts for 55% of alternative milk sales.  Soy milk is fading; sales of soy milk are predicted to fall over 10% this year alone.

Soy milk was at least close to cow’s milk in nutrition.  What about almond milk?  It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that almond milk is as healthy as cow’s milk, because it’s white.  Unfortunately, color doesn’t equate with nutrition.  Take protein.  We live in a protein-obsessed society, but if anyone who is drinking almond milk for the protein clearly isn’t paying attention.  Almond milk has even less protein than orange juice.  This is not a big secret; it’s printed right on the nutrition facts panel.

1 cup                          protein          fat              calories   

almond milk        1 g      2.5 g       80
soy milk           6 g      3.5 g      100
1% cows milk       8 g      2.4 g      100
orange juice       2 g       0 g       112

Then there’s added sugar.  Soy and almond milk are sugar sweetened, to make them palatable.  It’s not likely they’d be so popular without the sugary taste.  They’re also fortified with calcium, to make the calcium content look high and create a health halo.  The manufacturers can brag that these “milks” have more calcium than cow’s milk.  Technically true.  Typically the added calcium is cheap calcium carbonate, which can cause digestive upset for some people.

Basically, when you drink almond “milk”, you’re drinking a sugar-sweetened drink with some calcium carbonate powder, texturizers and flavorings thrown in.  Nutritionally, it’s not remarkable, unless you wanted a sugar-sweetened calcium supplement drink.  You’d be better off eating actual almonds, drinking water and taking a calcium pill.  80 calories of plain almonds has:

  • 3 grams of protein
  • 1.5 grams of fiber
  • less than 1 gram natural sugar
  • 7 grams of healthy fat
  • almost 100 mg of potassium
  • no sodium to speak of

Who might benefit from almond milk?  Vegans or people with a milk allergy, who want something to pour on cereal or use to make hot chocolate.  It would not be a suitable beverage to give to children to drink with meals, like cow’s milk, because of the added sugar and extremely low protein.  Children who drink almond milk at meals will be crowding out foods that contribute protein, essential for healthy growth, while added unnecessary sugar calories.  Not to mention conditioning their taste buds to expect sugary sweet flavors when they drink milk, and to expect sugary-sweet beverages with meals and snacks.  That’s a bad lesson for kids to learn.

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