May 19, 2015

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.

 

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 MilkUnsweetened Almond MilkSkim Milk2% Milk
60 calories30 calories83 calories122 calories
2.5g fat2.5g fat0g fat5g fat
0g sat fat0g sat fat0g sat fat3g sat fat
160mg sodium (added)160mg sodium (added)103mg sodium (naturally occurring)115mg sodium (naturally occurring)
1g protein1g protein8g protein8g protein
7g sugar (all added)0g sugar12g sugar (naturally occurring)12g sugar (naturally occurring)
45% DV calcium (added during processing)45% DV calcium (added during processing)30% DV calcium30% 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

 

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