Got (Almond) Milk?

| January 19, 2011 | 11 Comments
  • 11 Comments

almonds
Almonds

Choice. We love it. And these days, there seems to be an abundance of it in the dairy case. Now, in addition to your standard cow’s milk choices (organic, low fat, fat-free, lactose–free), there is a slew of alternatives that aren’t even dairy at all: soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, oat milk, coconut milk, even hemp milk. (Really, people? Hemp milk? Maybe I need to open up my chakras a little, but the idea of dunking my Oreos in a tall glass of hemp milk is about as appealing as chewing on some hippie’s patchouli-scented dreadlocks.)

I like my vanilla soy latte as much as the next girl, but I’d never use soy milk as an everyday milk substitute. Too much aftertaste, not enough creaminess. Almond milk, though, the new darling of health foods, is another story. It has a pleasant neutral milky taste to it, with just a hint of nuttiness. And, the texture is full and thick, mimicking the feel of whole milk pretty well.

Almond Breeze almond milk
Almond Breeze almond milk

Almond milk is made from ground almonds that are mixed with water, plus vitamins, stabilizers, and in some cases, a sweetener like evaporated cane juice. You can make your own homemade almond milk by soaking almonds overnight, then blending with water and straining the solids, but that can get expensive and probably isn’t worth all the effort.

Before converting, I decided to do a little research to see what the fuss was all about. Is almond milk really that much better for you? What are the problems with it that no one is talking about? Here’s the DL on almond milk:

The Health Benefits
It’s full of nutrients and good stuff. Almonds are a rich source of protein, Vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, selenium, manganese, and iron. This means strong bones and muscles, antioxidant protection, healthy skin, high energy levels, good metabolism, and other health benefits. Also, commercially made almond milk is often fortified with calcium (A good tip: give the carton a good shake before drinking, because calcium can settle at the bottom). Almond milk contains no cholesterol, and has actually been shown to lower levels of LDL cholesterol (due to good monounsaturated fats in almonds) as well as protect against heart disease (almond skins contain flavonoids which help to protect the heart).

It’s low in calories. Based on a recent comparison published in The Wall Street Journal, a one-cup serving of almond milk comes in at 60 calories, compared to coconut milk (80 calories), soy milk (90 calories), rice milk (120 calories), and 2% cow’s milk (130 calories).

It’s lactose free. An estimated 30 to 50 million Americans (about 25% of the United States population) are affected by lactose intolerance, meaning they have difficulty digesting the sugar found in cow’s milk.

It’s antibiotic and growth hormone free. While many dairy farmers have made strides to ensure that their cows are rBGH-free, the practice of injecting dairy cows with growth hormones and antibiotics has not been completely eradicated.

It’s an alternate alternative. Soy milk got some bad PR not long ago thanks to Jeremy Piven’s man boobs. Unless you’re consuming a gallon of soy milk a day though, studies have shown that soy-induced man boobs aren’t a real concern. However, there is an ongoing debate on the effect of soy foods on women. Soy foods are rich in isoflavones/phytoestrogens, which can mimic the effects of estrogen. It is currently unclear whether soy foods affect breast cancer risk or recovery…reading the studies and articles on this topic can easily spin you around with all the seemingly contradictory findings. It appears that the conclusion most widely agreed upon is to consume soy in moderation, along with a healthy and balanced diet. Thanks, Captain Obvious.

The Concerns
It can cause problems for those at risk for low thyroid function. Almonds are a goitrogenic food, meaning, when consumed in large quantities, they can suppress the function of the thyroid gland by interfering with iodine uptake, causing an enlargement of the thyroid. While goitrogenic foods (such as soy, cabbage, kale, flax, broccoli, and almonds) can be harmful for those with thyroid problems, they are beneficial for people who have healthy thyroid function. So, if you have a thyroid problem, avoid almond milk. Otherwise, your almond milk mustache is good to go.

It has added sugar. Flavored almond milk like Vanilla and Chocolate can have 15-22 grams of sugar per cup. To avoid all that extra sugar, opt for Original (7 grams sugar) or Unsweetened (0 grams sugar) flavors, both offered by Almond Breeze and Silk PureAlmond.

Now, don’t get me wrong, almond milk will never replace real dairy for me. I love my cheese and butter and ice cream too much. For goodness sake, I was happily raised on bottles of fresh whole milk from our local dairy farm. But, as a healthy alternative, I can get behind using almond milk in my morning smoothies, eating my granola with it, even making some sauces and soups with it. What’s your take on almond milk? Friend or Foe?

Vanilla-Date Smoothie
Ingredients for Vanilla-Date Smoothie

Vanilla-Date Smoothie
Adapted from the Bon Appétit Test Kitchen

This sweet and creamy smoothie taste too good to be good for you…but it is! Love the hit of fragrant vanilla, the bits of caramelly dates, and the blended ice with the almond milk makes a great icy milky consistency.

Serves: 2

Ingredients:
1 ½ cups almond milk (Original flavor)
4 pitted Medjool dates
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
10-12 ice cubes (a few big handfuls)
Sprinkle of cinnamon (optional)

Preparation:
Blend everything together until smooth.

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Category: Bay Area Bites Food + Drink, health and nutrition, recipes, vegetarian and vegan

About the Author ()

Stephanie Hua is the creator of Lick My Spoon, a place for all things delicious. So far she has learned that she very much enjoys salted caramel anything, a good soup dumpling is worth a scalded tongue, and there is no room in life for non-fat cheese and crappy chocolate. Also, a barrel of cheese balls never ends well. Stephanie has been known to choose her company based on how much they can pack it down. Ability to endure cramped quarters, sketchy back alleys, and uncharted paths to seek out that special dish is also a plus in her book. If you fit the criteria, drop a note. You’ll probably get along just fine. Stephanie's writing and photography have been featured in Fodor's Travel, Wine Enthusiast Magazine, Serious Eats, and Sundance Channel. Follow her on Facebook and @lickmyspoon.
  • sfmitch

    I have been using the Almond Breeze unsweetened Original almond milk in my oatmeal & cereal and think it is good stuff.

  • CUESA

    If you’re looking for homemade almond milk, made with organic local almonds, Lagier Ranches sells an amazing version (sweetened and unsweetened) at the their stand at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. http://www.lagierranches.com/

  • Vi

    Actually hemp milk is delicious. It’s very creamy and, depending on the brand, has a more neutral taste than other non-dairy milks, especially almond, hazelnut, or coconut (my other fave). I like to use it in cooking savory foods where I don’t want any hint of nuts or coconut or prefer not to use soy. The brand I like is Tempt by Living Harvest (their hemp milk ice cream is great!). Pacific also makes a hemp milk, but I’ve yet to try it.

    And a good tip for those looking to find a non-dairy creamer for their coffee: Don’t use a “milk” – it’s not rich enough. So Delicious Coconut Milk Creamer in Original is by far the best. It’s the closest to dairy cream in your coffee and has a neutral non-coconut-y creamy taste when added.

  • http://lickmyspoon.com Stephanie Hua

    @sfmitch: agreed! i’ve dabbled in baking with it too and it’s great.

    @CUESA: thanks for the tip!

    @Vi: ok, i’m sorry for judging hemp milk. thanks for sharing your first-hand account :) I’ve tried the So Delicious Coconut Milk Creamer too — it’s pretty good, but I found that once my coffee cooled down I noticed a weired aftertaste.

  • http://twitter.com/thehungarian Vi Zahajszky

    Hmmm, haven’t noticed the aftertaste. Maybe I just got used to it.

    Hey, if you ever want to try almond milk at its best in ice cream form, try Almond Dream Bites! They’re ice cream bonbons. Man oh man, I could LIVE off these: http://www.tastethedream.com/products/product/5077/745.php

  • WFM Employee

    You make yourself sound very ignorant with the hippie/hemp bashing comment… Fail attempt at being humorous

  • http://lickmyspoon.com Stephanie

    @WFM Employee: my hippie quip was not meant to offend so I’m sorry if it struck a nerve. honestly, it was the first image that came to mind when I imagined what it would taste like.

  • http://lickmyspoon.com Stephanie

    @Vi: thanks for the tip! sounds like godsend for the lactose intolerant.

  • http://www.thenourishednana.com Clee Hailey

    GOOD NEWS for those suffering, like me, w/thyroid issues! You can still ‘do’ almond milk if you heat or steam it first. This negates the goitrogenic effects.
    It is easy to make yourself as well, but the almonds need to be soaked beforehand in order to nix other ‘nut problems’ inherent to almonds and most other nuts.
    The cookbook, “Nourishing Traditions”, explains all the in’s and out’s and how-to’s.

  • toni

    I LOVE almond milk and believe me…it is TOTALLY worth it to make it fresh.
    I just soak the almonds overnight, in the morning I drain and rinse them and then put them through my Hurom juicer (I simply dump the soaked almonds into a big bowl with 1 and a half to two times as much water as almonds and ladle the almond water mixture through the juicer) It takes 5 minutes and the almond mild is 1000 times better than ANY commercially prepared almond milk. I add vanilla and either agave or thinned down honey but it’s even good without sweetening!

  • angelica

    Sounds simple. Are there any solids left behind? Id hate to have to toss them. Thanks