What You Need to Know About Almond Milk

Stroll the dairy case in today’s supermarket, and you’ll find that it’s no longer just about dairy.  The milk section is now crowded with an array of nondairy milks—including soy, rice, coconut, hemp, and all of the many nut varieties.  Ever wonder how all those nuts compare? Let’s take a look.

Nut Milk Basics

The good: They’re a great option for both vegans and the ~65% of the population who suffer from some form of lactose intolerance. Another bonus: They’re cholesterol and saturated fat free.

The not-so-good: Anyone with tree nut allergies, beware. Nut milks also have less protein than cow’s milk and can be a bit pricier. Some varieties also have a lot of added sugars.

How they’re made: Nuts are first shelled, often lightly toasted, soaked in filtered water, ground into a paste, and then blended with water. The “milk” is the liquid that is then strained from the nut solids, or pulp. Some manufacturers then add thickeners or gums, sugar, salt, and flavors. Most of the calories, fat, fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals are left in the pulp.

 

almond-milk

About almond milk: There are ups and downs. It’s a rough comparison when you look at whole almonds verses almond milk, but here’s the rundown: On the upside, a cup of almond milk has just 60 calories, 2.5g fat, and 0g sat fat (Ha! That’s about 750 calories less than a cup of whole almonds). On the downside, when the pulp is strained from the milk, you lose almost all of the fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals from the whole nut. A cup of the milk contains <1g fiber and only 1g protein, and if you choose the original variety, you’ll also tack on 7g added sugar and 160mg added salt.

Compared to cow’s milk (per 1 cup):

Original Almond Milk Unsweetened Almond Milk Skim Milk 2% Milk
60 calories 30 calories 83 calories 122 calories
2.5g fat 2.5g fat 0g fat 5g fat
0g sat fat 0g sat fat 0g sat fat 3g sat fat
160mg sodium (added) 160mg sodium (added) 103mg sodium (naturally occurring) 115mg sodium (naturally occurring)
1g protein 1g protein 8g protein 8g protein
7g sugar (all added) 0g sugar 12g sugar (naturally occurring) 12g sugar (naturally occurring)
45% DV calcium (added during processing) 45% DV calcium (added during processing) 30% DV calcium 30% DV calcium

 

Other plusses for almond milk:

  • Unlike cow’s milk, almond milk has no naturally occurring sugars, so it won’t send your blood sugar into a spike.
  • A cup contains 20% of your daily Vitamin E needs, which is good for your skin and helps protect against sun damage.
  • Most of us get plenty of protein in a day, so the fact that the milk only has about 1 gram per cup isn’t something most of us should necessarily worry about.
  • It’s nutty and tasty!

How to buy: “Original” varieties typically have a bit of sugar added back into the nut milk, and some vanilla-flavored almond milks have as much as 16g sugar per cup—that’s 4 teaspoons, folks! Choose the unsweetened variety if you’re looking for a no-sugar-added option.

Pricing? I went to my local Piggly Wiggly for a little price comparison, and here’s what I found:

Half gallon almond milk: $3.69

Half gallon organic cow’s milk: $5.39

Full gallon generic cow’s milk: $3.79

Bottom line: Almond milk is a great lactose-free, vegan alternative to dairy milk. Just be sure to read labels and know what you’re putting your money into … if you want the added sugars, fine. If not, choose unsweetened. Or, for a completely sugar-free, salt-free, gum- and stabilizer-free version, make your own using our simple recipe.

Keep reading: Our favorite almond milks

 

COMMENTS

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  4. adriene

    Humm, yes, a very one sided article. I think I’ll go back to regular milk…. it may have more sugar, but it has more protein and at least it is 100% natural without stablisers and sh*t added. Organic milk (here in france where I live) is just lightly more expensive, and as something I drink nearly every day, I think it is worth going with the best. p.s. I am the spokesperson for common sense😉

    May 27, 2015 at 3:45 am
  5. Sidney Fry, MS, RD

    You bring up a great point, Jackie! And sorry for the confusion. All naturally occurring nut-calcium is lost when the milk is strained from the nut. The amount of calcium in almond milk depends on how much the manufacturer chooses to add back during processing. Some brands have as little as 2% DV, while others have between 45-50% DV. It’s important to read labels and find the best fit for you… which it sounds like you’ve done!

    May 26, 2015 at 5:02 pm
  6. Jackie Justus

    I’m confused. You say that almond milk has less calcium than dairy milk, but the nutrition info on the almond milks I use (Almond Breeze, Friendly Farms) say they have 45% of the daily requirement of calcium, whereas my 2% dairy milk says it has only 30%. Can you clear this up for me please? Thank you.

    May 26, 2015 at 10:29 am
  7. Sidney Fry, MS, RD

    Thanks, Holley. No, this was not a sponsored post. We have a lot of readers with lactose intolerances (myself included) who ask us how nut milks are made and whether or not they are healthy. Milk from almonds does not carry the protein and fiber-rich content of the nut. That is filtered out. Store bought nut milks are also expensive, and this links to a fun recipe that you can make at home for your family. This is the first part of a tri-series about nut milks. Cashew and hazelnut to come.

    May 26, 2015 at 9:20 am
  8. Holley Grainger, MS, RD

    Was this a sponsored post? It seems very one-sided. I think it’s important to look at the significant difference in protein between almond “milk” and dairy milk. New studies are suggesting at least 20g of protein per meal so it would be hard to reach that amount at breakfast with almond “milk” vs dairy milk. Many people are unaware that the protein in almond “milk” is negligible (1 gram compared to 8). Also important to note that diary milk offers 3 of the nutrients of concern (ones that Americans are lacking)–calcium, potassium, and vitamin D. It has 9 essential nutrients in 1 package for around $.25 per glass. Almond milk just can’t say the same.

    May 26, 2015 at 7:25 am
    • Holley Grainger, MS, RD

      Important to note that in full disclosure, I work as a spokesperson on behalf of dairy farmers. While my comments are completely my own thoughts and opinions (and science), it is important to me to disclose relationships.🙂

      May 26, 2015 at 8:35 am

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