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Here is where I share my thoughts, ideas and opinions about the world of nutrition, food and health. I hope you find good sense, helpful guidance and inspiration to eat great healthy food that makes you feel good.

I write regularly for GI News, an online newsletter for 60,000+ Australasian and International subscribers interested in the glycemic index (GI) and associated health topics such as diabetes, weight loss and a healthy heart. It’s a great read. http://www.gisymbol.com/category/gi-news/

 

30 Jan 2017

Should you switch to almond milk?

Posted by Nicole Senior on Monday, January 30, 2017

Foodnavigator USA projects almond milk will be the fastest growing segment in the dairy alternative market with a compound annual growth rate of 15% in the coming years. Have you tried it? It’s hard to miss if you visit cafés in Sydney, especially in hip areas, nestling alongside other hipster fare such as gluten-free muffins, protein balls, and chia cookies.

Like many trendy foods and drinks, almond milk radiates its charms under a health halo, marketed as a “healthy” alternative to traditional milk in your coffee. Sydney people drink a heck of a lot of coffee – I’ve often thought if the coffee supply ran out the city would grind to a halt (pardon the pun). But caffeine has always had a less-than-holy reputation (it is a drug after all). This where the marketing of almond milk to cafés has done the trick: if people think their coffee is good for them they’ll drink it with abandon. Genius!

So how healthy is it? Let’s look at what’s in it. The commercial varieties are basically water (about 97%) plus almond paste along with additives to make it pour well and taste good such as emulsifiers, flavour, salt, oil and vegetable gum – some brands add sugar or syrup to boost appeal. As for nutrition, a recent article in the New York Times says plant milks pale in comparison to dairy milk, an expert says some plant milks are “startling low” on nutrition, while a study in the Journal of Paediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition suggests plant milks should not be considered a nutritional alternative to cow’s milk. Why? It has almost no protein or calcium. While some brands do have calcium added, it is not as well absorbed this way as the calcium in dairy milk is.

In Sydney, we’re seeing many cafés making their own almond milk with perhaps a bit more almond and no additives – but it has almost no calcium either. In these days of protein worship it’s odd to see such a minimal protein product as almond milk capture so much attention. Unless you have a good reason to avoid dairy milk, such as allergy or intolerance, nutritionally you’d be better off sticking with real milk; ideally light milk if you’re drinking more than a coffee’s-worth in a day (2–3 serves of dairy food a day are recommended).

From a nutritional point of view, I think almond milk is more a missed opportunity than an outright assault. Critics have been less kind, implying plant milks are akin to junk food

. To me that’s like rushing to the opposite extreme. However, the fact that almond milk contains almost no almond – around 2.5% - means all that delicious goodness of a handful of almonds has been diluted to next to nothing. It’s kind of like eating a fruit flavoured yoghurt and expecting goodness from the fruit. While immodest marketing claims that suggest almond milk has the cholesterol-lowering benefits of almonds or their vitamin, mineral and antioxidant content are fanciful to put it kindly.

Nutrition content of milk vs almond milk per 100ml serve (a bit over 1/3 cup, which is less than the average café latte)

Milk alternative

Ingredients

Energy (kJ)

Protein (g)

Fat  (g)

Total carbohydrate

Total sugars

Calcium

(mg)

Whole milk

Milk

293

3.5

3.5

6.3

6.3

107

Light milk (1%)

Milk (fat reduced)

 

194

3.8

1.2

6.1

6.1

109

Almond milk, calcium added

Brand 1

Water, almonds (2.5%), calcium, emulsifier, natural flavours, salt, vegetable gum

105

0.4

1

3.3

2.9

83

Almond milk, calcium added,

Brand 2

Water, almonds (2.5%), calcium, emulsifier, flavour, salt, vegetable gum, antioxidant, vitamins

173

1.4

3.5

0.8

0.3

120

Almond milk, nothing added,

Fresh pressed

Water, almonds (10%)

256

2.1

5.6

0.5

0.4

22

When it comes to cooking with almond milk you’d do well to use recipes developed specifically for almond milk to ensure a good result as its very watery. And think about boosting the goodness with addition of nutritious ingredients such as nuts, seeds, wholegrains or egg.

Foodnavigator.com says North American consumers are choosing almond milk to help lose weight, and they quote marketing claims that almond milk can boost satiety (fullness). I searched the published scientific literature and found no studies on satiety of almond milk. It seems highly unlikely that such a low protein beverage could have a high satiety value (protein is the most satiating nutrient). There are no studies on using almond milk instead of cow’s milk for weight loss either. And there are no scientific studies suggesting dairy milk is fattening. The opposite. A meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials found weight-loss diets that include dairy foods including regular milk result in greater weight loss than those without.

Years ago in Sydney’s Italian district I used to visit an authentic Italian café that refused to serve anything but regular milk in their coffee and saw anything else as an insult to their proud barista tradition. I can only admire their resistance to the folly of food trends.

The unvarnished truth

Almond milk is not nutritionally equivalent to dairy milk and has very little going for it nutritionally.

If you need to avoid dairy foods and soy milk with calciusm, choose an almond milk with added calcium.