As a nutrition professional working with a diverse population of individuals – of various ages, different food preferences, individual struggles, and unique goals – I try to remain unbiased and open. But, I have to admit the almond milk craze confuses me. Allow me to explain. Typically the folks that are investing in this milk substitute are doing so because they have been convinced that it is “healthier.” They may not even be able to explain what that means for them, but they’ve bought into the idea, nonetheless. Some will explain they heard it is healthier because “it is a more wholesome food product” or because it is “less processed” or that it is “better tolerated”, “doesn’t cause inflammation”, “doesn’t contain hormones, antibiotics”, etc…(than cow’s milk or soy milk).
Well, I’m not going to dive into all the evidence-based reasons why those are not entirely true statements (perhaps for another blog). My point here is to encourage folks to ask questions, get curious, be a little more skeptical, and use some “common sense” instead of always relying on “google university” for information. Therefore, I’m offering some ideas on how my own curiosity about this popular food product helped me with my skepticism about whether almond milk is a health food or just hype.
Let’s get started. First off, I’m all about a diet that includes foods that are unprocessed, wholesome and as close to their natural state as possible! I love to cook from scratch and was brought up to enjoy fresh produce and great tasting food. More important, I agree that we are bombarded with a plethora of foods with ingredients and additives and we need to get back to eating more “real food”.
So, of course, I am interested in what like-minded (or so it seems) health and wellness professionals recommend. And, this almond milk recommendation comes up every time! This is interesting to me because even the least processed almond milk (“unsweetened”, “original”, “all natural”) I could find at the grocery store seems pretty processed to me and contains food additives, such as Gellan gum, natural flavors, salt, sunflower lecithin, etc. And…the very fact that the product has an expiration date 3 months passed the date of purchase suggests that this product may not be as wholesome as I’d prefer.
Well, because of my compassion for my clients who want natural, wholesome food products and don’t like, want to avoid, or can’t tolerate dairy, I thought I’d try making my own almond milk and see if that would be a decent recommendation.
I went out, bought my raw almonds and joyfully prepared my homemade almond milk…as directed in an article from the “healthy way of life company” ~ Life Experience Magazine (Lifetime Fitness). It’s fairly easy, not terribly time consuming and surprisingly produced a frothy, white-ish product that tasted somewhat similar to the store bought original and unsweetened almond milk.
Okay, so this is interesting. To produce about one-half quart almond milk (from 1 cup of almonds) – again according to the recipe from the source mentioned previously – cost me about $3.00 (1/2 of my $6.00 bag of almonds) and is supposedly shelf stable for 3 days in the refrigerator. For reference, the 1/2 gallon store bought almond milk was $3.50 – perhaps you can find it cheaper somewhere else, but that’s what I paid – and it is shelf stable until June 5 (again 3 months passed the date of purchase).
And, even more interesting, in the process of straining out the undesired pulp, you lose most of the nutrition and are left with basically almond-flavored water – thus only 30 kcals and 1 gram protein per 1 cup serving. So, okay. Perhaps a nice option for those who truly don’t want or can’t tolerate other, more nutritious milk products. But again, I’m confused by the momentum behind this being recommended and touted as a “health food.” To me, it seems hard to even consider it a food product. Maybe an ingredient for something. But, in terms of my overall daily nutrition needs, I’m really not convinced it’s contributing much, if anything at all to sustaining my health.
Again, I truly am not concerned whether someone wants or chooses to drink almond milk or any other nut milk – store bought or home-prepared. I respect everyone’s food preferences and the variety of reasons that contribute to those choices. But, what I get a little riled about is the “hype” and the misinformation that contributes to consumers being confused about food being “good” vs “bad” or “healthy” vs “unhealthy”. Food is just food. There is not any one food item that will make or break your health status. On the other hand, eating too much or too little of anything, not moving your body, smoking, stress, not sleeping well, is another story.
So, my suggestion: be curious. Ask questions. Does this really make sense?
Remember, skepticism is a good thing. Denial, on the other hand, can be a problem.
My conclusion: I’m personally sticking with my yummy and fresh cow’s milk. The rest of my family agreed (lucky for them, they all were subjected to a taste test). Even my cat agreed and wouldn’t touch the almond milk (before you get concerned: she seems to love and tolerate cow’s milk quite well). And, in case you’re interested, here’s the ingredients in cow’s milk (that expires within 2 weeks after purchase). Cheers!