“Got milk?” This slogan has been a cornerstone in the advertising industry and reminds most of the ads with the milk mustache and even brings me back to the elementary school lunch line where I would hope for the chocolate milk special Wednesdays.
Food can elicit good memories and a parasympathetic response from positive experiences such as the way something tastes or the association of where we were when we were eating the food. Milk is no different, but is the food really good for you? And what is the deal with all these milk alternatives lately?
Almond milk is an example of a milk alternative that many people enjoy and has grown to hold 4% of the market which is a 400% increase from 6 years ago with sales exceeding $700 million. Not only is almond milk growing in popularity as a cow’s milk alternative it also has some significant health benefits especially since 75% of the world is lactose-intolerant.1 Instead of putting apple juice in one’s granola (like I did as a child who had problems digesting dairy) almond milk is now a more mainstream product that can improve more than just the breakfast cereal experience.
The benefits of drinking almond milk are numerous, and here are just a few of them:
- It keeps your heart healthy: almond milk is high in omega fatty acids which can help reduce your risk of heart disease. (An important note: there is a significant body of research which indicates that cholesterol is not the culprit of heart disease and in fact it is elevated blood triglyceride levels from excessive sugar consumption that is the real cause of heart disease. In fact cholesterol is one of the most vitally important substances in the body. Every cell of the body is made from cholesterol, and it is a precursor to ALL of our steroid hormones including all of the sex and adrenal hormones, so make sure to avoid refined sugar and choose healthy fats in your diet.)
- It doesn’t spike blood sugar: almond milk is low in carbohydrates and therefore doesn’t significantly increase blood sugar levels, reducing the risk of developing diabetes.
- It improves muscle strength and recovery: while almond milk is relatively low in protein, it is high in B-vitamins (particularly iron and riboflavin) which are important to muscle growth and recovery.
- It helps keep your weight in check: almond milk is lower in calories than skim milk, with one cup containing only 60 calories!
- It boosts immune health: almond milk is often fortified with vitamins A, D and E, vital fat soluble vitamins all of which give your immune system a daily boost. Make sure to consume almond milk with a healthy fat such as coconut oil in order to properly absorb these important vitamins.
As a nutritionist I am always weary of plant based products trying to disguise themselves as alternatives to animal-derived options. Things to consider when purchasing almond milk are:
- First, anyone with tree nut allergies will want to avoid almonds or almond milk products.
Read the labels. Unsweetened almond milk is best because it avoids added sweeteners to ensure the blood sugar is not spiked.
- Choose the brand that offers the least amount of preservatives. Watch out for brands of almond milk that have soy additives in them, industrially processed soy contains equol and genistein which are isoflavones that negatively affects the thyroid.
- Almond milk does not have the amount of protein cow’s milk has so be sure to add protein to your diet if drinking almond milk.
- Commercial almond milk often has thickeners such as carrageenan which is a polysaccharide that can cause gastrointestinal distress including gas, bloating, diarrhea and fatigue.
So, with that in mind perhaps the best solution is for us to make the almond milk ourselves.
How To Make Almond Milk at Home
Makes about 2 cups
- 1 cup raw almonds, preferably organic
- 2 cups water, plus more for soaking
- Vanilla Extract, Stevia (optional)
- Measuring cup
- Blender or food processor
- Fine-mesh nut bag or cheesecloth
- Soak the almonds overnight or up to 2 days. Place the almonds in a bowl and cover with about an inch of water. They will plump as they absorb water. Let stand on the counter, covered with a cloth, overnight, or refrigerate for up to 2 days. The longer the almonds soak, the creamier the almond milk.
- Drain and rinse the almonds. Drain the almonds from their soaking water and rinse them thoroughly under cool running water. At this point, the almonds should feel a little squishy if you pinch them. (Soaking almonds reduces phytic acid and makes the nutrients more available to the body and the almonds easier to digest.),
- Combine the almonds and fresh water in a blender. Place the almonds in the blender and cover with 2 cups of water.
Blend at the highest speed for 2 minutes. Pulse the blender a few times to break up the almonds, then blend continuously for two minutes. The almonds should be broken down into a very fine meal and the water should be white and opaque. (If using a food processor, process for 4 minutes total, pausing to scrape down the sides halfway through.)
- Strain the almonds. Line the strainer cheesecloth, and place over a measuring cup. Pour the almond mixture into the strainer.
- Press all the almond milk from the almond meal. Gather the cheesecloth around the almond meal and twist close. Squeeze and press with clean hands to extract as much almond milk as possible. You should get about 2 cups.
- Add a small amount of vanilla extract to add a little vanilla flavor. If you really want it sweet add stevia to taste. Otherwise leave it as is and it is ready to drink!
- Refrigerate almond milk. Store the almond milk in sealed containers in the fridge for up to two days.