By Dr. Mercola
There are many reasons to snack on whole, raw almonds. They're an excellent source of protein, healthy fats, and antioxidants, for starters, and almond skins even contain beneficial phenols, flavonoids. and phenolic acids, which are typically associated with vegetables and fruits.
Drinking almond milk may therefore seem like a smart choice, one that may offer you the health benefits of almonds in beverage form – but it's not as healthy as it would appear, particularly if you buy commercial varieties.
What exactly is almond milk? It's typically a combination of almonds, water, sweetener, thickener such as carrageenan, and, often, fortified nutrients such as vitamins A, E, and D.
The problem is that most almond milk contains hardly any almonds, mostly water, added sugars, and a smattering of vitamins for good measure. As Business Insider put it:1
"If almond milk closely resembles any beverage, it's a glass of water and a multivitamin."
A Handful of Almonds in a Carton…
The amount of actual almonds in a half-gallon carton of almond milk is shocking: research suggests it's just over a handful. In one analysis of the UK almond milk brand Alpro, almonds made up just 2 percent of the beverage, and the Almond Board of California noted that ingredients are pretty similar between UK and US almond milk brands.2
If you've ever wondered how almond milk can be so low in calories – about 30 calories in a cup, compared to 160 calories in a serving of almonds – it's because it's mostly water… not almonds.
"Based on these numbers," Business Insider reported, "to get the nutritional value of a handful of almonds, you'd have to drink not just a few cups of the almond milk but an entire carton of it."3
Almond Milk Sales Soar as Consumers Get Ripped Off
One maker of plant-based milk, White Wave, reported first-quarter sales in 2014 had increased 50 percent over the prior year. In the US, almond milk tops the plant-based milk market, taking up two-thirds of the share (followed by soy milk, at 30 percent, rice, and coconut milks).4
In all, sales of alternative milks are soaring and are expected to reach $1.7 billion by 2016, with almond milk leading the way.5 But as a consumer, you have to question what you're really paying for… and how much it's costing you. In the case of almond milk, you're paying a lot of money for what is essentially water and sweetener with a handful of almonds.
According to Mother Jones:6
"…the almond-milk industry is selling you a jug of filtered water clouded by a handful of ground almonds. Which leads us to the question of price and profit… A jug of almond milk containing roughly 39 cents worth of almonds, plus filtered water and additives, retails for $3.99."
Are Other 'Alternative' Milks Healthy?
Almond milk is just one plant-based milk available in most major supermarkets. You can now easily find a handful of others as well, most of which are marketed as healthy… but are they really? Here's a run-down on some of the more popular alternative milks on the market:
✓ Soy Milk
One of the worst problems with soy comes from the fact that 90 to 95 percent of soybeans grown in the US are genetically modified (GM). GM soybeans are designed to be "Roundup Ready," which means they're engineered to withstand otherwise lethal doses of herbicide.
The active ingredient in Roundup herbicide is called glyphosate, which is responsible for the disruption of the delicate hormonal balance of the female reproductive cycle.
What's more, glyphosate is toxic to the placenta, which is responsible for delivering vital nutrients from mother to child, and eliminating waste products. Once the placenta has been damaged or destroyed, the result can be miscarriage. In those children born to mothers who have been exposed to even a small amount of glyphosate, serious birth defects can result.
Glyphosate's mechanism of harm was identified in 2013 and demonstrates how this chemical disrupts cellular function and may induce many of our modern diseases, including autism. It's also been declared a "probable carcinogen."
Aside from the GM issues, thousands of studies have linked unfermented soy to malnutrition, digestive distress, immune-system breakdown, thyroid dysfunction, cognitive decline, reproductive disorders and infertility, and even cancer and heart disease.
The only soy with health benefits is organic soy that has been properly fermented, and these are the only soy products I ever recommend consuming.
After a long fermentation process, the phytate and "anti-nutrient" levels of soybeans are reduced, and their beneficial properties become available to your digestive system. To learn more, please see this previous article detailing the dangers of unfermented soy.
✓ Rice Milk
Rice milk is composed of similar ingredients to almond milk, namely filtered water, rice, and added vitamins. There's nothing particularly healthy about rice milk along with a potential harm: arsenic.
Rice has been shown to accumulate 10 times more arsenic than other grains, due to physiology and growing conditions, and is an ingredient of "moderate" concern in rice and rice-based processed foods, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG). EWG reported:7
"In 2012, the independent, highly regarded Consumer Reports research organization made public tests indicating that arsenic concentrations commonly exceeded 100 parts per billion in rice, rice flour, crackers, pasta, hot and cold breakfast cereals, and infant cereal…
Arsenic levels in rice milk often surpassed 10 parts per billion, the maximum allowed in drinking water."
✓ Coconut Milk
Coconut milk is made from the expressed juice of grated coconut meat and water. About 50 percent of the fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, which is rarely found in nature.
Your body converts lauric acid into monolaurin, a monoglyceride that can actually destroy lipid-coated viruses such as HIV and herpes, influenza, measles, gram-negative bacteria, and protozoa such as Giardia lamblia.
Lauric acid is a type of medium chain fatty acid (MCFAs), which is easily digested and readily crosses cell membranes. MCFAs are immediately converted by your liver into energy rather than being stored as fat.
There are numerous studies showing that MCFAs promote weight loss, including one study that showed rats fed MCFAs reduced body fat and improved insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance.8
Yet another study found that overweight men who ate a diet rich in MCFAs lost more fat tissue, presumably due to increased energy expenditure and fat oxidation from the MCFA intake.9 In addition, coconut milk is rich in antioxidants and nutrients, including vitamins C, E and B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and iron.
✓ Raw Milk
Many consider raw milk to be an "alternative" form of milk, but it is actually how all milk used to be consumed. High-quality raw milk from a reputable source is far preferable to the pasteurized CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) milk found in most supermarkets.
High-quality raw milk has a mountain of health benefits that pasteurized milk lacks. For example, raw milk is:
- Loaded with healthy bacteria that are good for your gastrointestinal tract
- Full of more than 60 digestive enzymes, growth factors, and immunoglobulins (antibodies)
- Rich in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which fights cancer and boosts metabolism
- Rich in beneficial raw fats, amino acids, and proteins in a highly bioavailable form, all 100 percent digestible
- Loaded with vitamins (A, B, C, D, E, and K) in highly bioavailable forms, and contains a very balanced blend of minerals (calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron) whose absorption is enhanced by live lactobacilli
If You Love Almond Milk, Make Your Own
While almond milk isn't exactly a superfood by any means, there's nothing inherently unhealthy about it – unless you choose varieties with added sweeteners and other additives. For the most part, it's more deceptive than anything, as you're paying a premium for mostly water and could get better nutrition from eating a handful of actual nuts. Still, if you enjoy the taste of almond milk and don't want to give it up, making your own almond milk is far more economical – and healthier – than buying a ready-made version.
You can increase the amount of almonds for added nutrition, leave out the sweeteners and other additives, and be left with an almond-milk beverage that's actually decent for your health at a fraction of the price. It's simple to make, too. One recipe from Whole Foods Market involves first soaking about one cup of organic, raw almonds in cold water overnight (about 10-12 hours).10 Then, blend the almonds with about three cups of water (you can add more or less depending on how you like the consistency).
Strain the frothy mixture through a cheesecloth, fine-mesh strainer or nut-milk bag. Your almond milk will keep in the fridge for about three days (give it a stir before drinking). Also, don't throw away the leftover pulp; it can be added to smoothies or even baked goods for added nutrition. One benefit to consuming almonds this way is that they'll be soaked before you eat them. Soaking helps to get rid of the phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors, which can interfere with the function of your own digestive and metabolic enzymes.
Phytic acid, which is found in the coatings of nuts, is an "anti-nutrient" responsible for leeching vital nutrients from your body. Phytic acid also blocks the uptake of essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc. Further, when nuts are soaked, the germination process begins, allowing the enzyme inhibitors to be deactivated and increasing the nutrition of the nut significantly, as well as making them much easier to digest. (Enzyme inhibitors in nuts [and seeds] help protect the nut as it grows, helping to decrease enzyme activity and prevent premature sprouting.)
Choose Raw Almonds for Best Results
When choosing almonds for this recipe (or for snacking), try to find raw, organic almonds. It can be tricky, as pasteurized almonds sold in North America can still be labeled "raw" even though they've been subjected to one of the following pasteurization methods:
- Oil roasting, dry roasting, or blanching
- Steam processing
- Propylene Oxide (PPO) treatment (PPO is a highly toxic flammable chemical compound, once used as a racing fuel before it was prohibited for safety reasons)
There are generally no truly "raw" almonds sold in North America, so don't be misled. It is possible to purchase raw almonds in the US, but it has to be done very carefully from vendors selling small quantities that have a waiver from the pasteurization requirement. The key is to find a company with the waiver that is not pasteurizing them.