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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Trends


Almond milk — healthy or hype?

Kelsey Jeter, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Jackson County, University of Missouri Extension


Glass of almond milk on a table surrounded by whole almondsCow’s milk provides many nutrients your body needs. It contains calcium, potassium, vitamin D and protein, all of which help to improve bone health and manage blood pressure. Because of its health benefits, the USDA recommends three servings of dairy per day for the average adult.


Despite the many nutrients it provides, the US has seen a decline in sales in cow’s milk and an increase in sales in plant-based milks over the past few years. Almond milk in particular has grown in popularity since 2011. Why is almond milk so popular? Is the popular choice always the right choice? Let’s dig a little deeper, past the yummy nutty flavor and the hype of this plant-based product and into the actual nutritional value that it provides.


Why almond milk?


There are several reasons. Almond milk has been used by many who have casein allergies, lactose intolerance, diabetes or heart disease. Some consumers prefer the product solely because of taste and flavor preferences.


Nutrients in almond milk


Almond milk provides several beneficial nutrients. It is naturally a good source of vitamin E, which is an antioxidant that protects your body from free radicals. Almond milk is high in omega 3 fatty acids, which help to lower your bad cholesterol. In fact, since almond milk is a plant product, it contains no cholesterol and no saturated fat. Almond milk is lower in carbohydrates than cow’s milk making it an attractive choice for people with diabetes. Manufacturers also fortify almond milk to match the calcium and vitamin D content of cow’s milk.


What is it missing?


Although many almond milk brands are lower in calories than cow’s milk (unsweetened almond milk has about 40 calories per cup), it is also very low in protein. Most of the protein is lost during the processing of almond milk, resulting in water and almond water as the main ingredients. Most almond milk provides only 1 gram of protein per serving compared to 8 grams of protein per serving from cow’s milk. Almond milk is also lower in potassium than cow’s milk.


Added sweeteners


Almond milk comes in many varieties including sweetened, unsweetened, dark chocolate, and vanilla. Some of these versions have added sugars which the USDA warns will count against your maximum limit of “empty calories” (calories from solid fats and added sugars).


Is it recommended?


The USDA states that calcium-fortified beverages such as almond milk may provide the recommended amount of calcium, but may not provide other nutrients found in dairy products. The important thing to remember is to check the nutrition facts label — look for milk or milk products that have adequate amounts of calcium, vitamin D and protein. Aim for products that are low in added sugars and saturated fats. The bottom line is simple — whether its cow’s milk or almond milk — the value of the product you choose depends on the composition of the product, your nutrient needs and if you have an underlying medical condition.


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Last update: Monday, October 12, 2015