A former athlete sent me a message the other day regarding my take on almond milk. He wanted to find a substitute for cow's milk, but expressed concern at the potential additives almond milk contains. I come across questions about almond milk more often than you might think, so I decided to write up my answers in a post.
Almond milk is used as a substitute for dairy or soy milk for a number of reasons. Almond milk can act as a replacement for cow’s milk for those with a dairy allergy/intolerance. For others, almond milk offers unique health benefits. For instance, almond milk contains no saturated fat, has fewer calories than soy milk, and is rich in vitamins—especially vitamin E, which can help prevent cancer and slow the signs of aging. However, it's important to read the food label among the varying almond milk choices.
Carrageenan + Other Additives
Some almond milks contain a controversial food additive called carrageenan (care-uh-GHEE-nen). While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers carrageenan safe, studies have found it to cause gastrointestinal inflammation, aggravating conditions such as IBS, Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis. Some claim it is a carcinogenic and can contribute to cancer, but more research is needed to substantiate those claims.
But carrageenan isn’t limited to just almond milk. It's allowed in organic foods, including juices, chocolate milk, and organic infant formula, as well as other types of foods, like soy milk, cream, ice cream, cottage cheese, yogurt, and so on. So chances are, if you eat any of these foods without experiencing any problems, you shouldn’t experience any setbacks with choosing almond milk. The best thing to do is to choose organic almond milk without carrageenan—or, if you suspect carrageenan might be causing problems within your body, try removing carrageenan-containing products from your diet for 30 days and see what happens.
The lesson here is an old one: read your food labels. Almond milk contains vitamin D and vitamin A naturally, but many processed kinds contain synthetic vitamins, unwanted additives, and sweeteners, so read the ingredients carefully. And it goes without saying that almond milk should also be avoided by those with tree nut allergies. Finally, another fact worth mentioning is that one cup of almond milk has only 1 gram of protein vs. 7 grams for soy and 8 grams for cow's milk. Almonds themselves are packed with protein, but almond milk is not a good source of protein. Almond milk also lacks B vitamins and contains more sodium than soy milk.
From my estimation, almond milk has many health benefits and is a very good alternative to soy or cow's milk. Be sure to find what best meets your needs in terms of nutrients by reviewing the food ingredients label and choose accordingly. Of course, for the die-hards who relish the labor of love, you can always avoid the hysteria and choose to make your own almond milk.
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