If you’re looking for alternatives to cow’s milk, that carton of almond milk in the grocery store might catch your eye. And yes—it’s a better choice for you than dairy, which is why I allow the unsweetened version on my diets (if it’s carrageenan-free, which I’ll explain shortly). But before you start using it, you need to know both the pros and the cons of this alternative milk.
The benefits of almond milk
First, let’s talk about the upsides of drinking almond milk. It’s low in carbs and calories, and it provides you with a little bit of protein and a good dose of vitamins and minerals (although most of these nutrients are added by the manufacturers). Unlike cow’s milk, it’s not inflammatory—if it’s free of sugar and a dangerous additive I’ll talk about in a minute—and it doesn’t load you with hormones that are bad for your body. I don’t consider it as good a choice as canned coconut milk, which has a better fat profile and more overall health benefits, but it definitely beats the stuff from the cow.
What’s more, almond milk is smooth and silky and tasty. It makes a great shake or smoothie, and it can satisfy your desire for a shot of milk in your morning coffee.
The drawbacks to using commercial almond milk
Now, let’s talk about the downsides of almond milk. First, commercial almond milk is nearly all water and only about 2% almonds (surprising, isn’t it?), so you’re not getting much nutrition for your money. Second, if you’re one of the many people who are sensitive or allergic to nuts, drinking almond milk can cause stomach upsets or other symptoms.
Third, commercial almond milk often contains added sugar, flavorings, and other questionable ingredients. And most importantly, it frequently contains an additive called carrageenan.
Carrageenan is an emulsifier that manufacturers add to almond milk so you don’t need to shake the carton to blend the contents. It’s made from red algae or seaweed, so you’d expect it to be good for you—but it’s not. In fact, it’s very, very bad news.
Researcher Joanne Tobacman, who’s studied carrageenan for years, has lobbied the government to ban it as a food additive. Her research implicates carrageenan as a culprit in gastrointestinal malignancy and breast cancer. In addition, her studies indicate that carrageenan may contribute to glucose intolerance and insulin insensitivity, both of which are steps on the road to diabetes.
Moreover, Tobacman isn’t giving mice massive doses of carrageenan. In fact, the mice in her diabetes research consume less carrageenan per body weight than the average American. What’s more, she’s using the same food-grade form that manufacturers use.
In short, even small doses of carrageenan may inflame your body and put you at higher risk for cancer, bowel problems, or diabetes. Does that sound like something you want in your diet? Nope.
What’s the answer? Buy smart—or make your own
Now that you know the bad news, let’s get back to the good news. If you read labels carefully, you can find brands of almond milk that don’t contain carrageenan, sugar, or other unnecessary ingredients. These are fine to use if you’re not allergic or sensitive to nuts.
Better yet, here’s a simple solution: make your own almond milk at home! It’s fun, it’s easy, and you’ll wind up with a milk that has no additives and contains more protein than the store-bought variety.
Making your own almond milk takes just a few minutes of actual work. (The rest is soaking time.) Here’s how to do it.
MAKE-IT-YOURSELF ALMOND MILK
Prep time: 10 min • Yield: about 5 cups
- 1 ½ cups whole raw almonds, optionally blanched
- 4 cups purified water for almond milk; more for soaking
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 to 2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey (optional)
Place almonds in a medium bowl. Cover with water and let them soak for at least 4 hours, or up to 2 days for creamier almond milk.
Drain the water and place almonds in blender. Add 2 cups water and blend to a creamy paste. Add the other 2 cups of water, vanilla, and preferred sweetener. Blend for 3 to 4 minutes. Taste and adjust vanilla or sweetener if desired.
Strain the almond milk in a fine sieve lined with cheesecloth or in a nut bag. Drain all the milk from the solids. Refrigerate.
You can reserve the solids, dehydrate, and pulse in blender to create almond meal/flour.
Almond milk tastes great in any of my Collagen shakes or cooler.
For Chocolate Almond Milk, use melted dark chocolate or cacao powder. Melt about 1/3 to ½ cup dark chocolate in a double boiler or microwave. Add about a cup of milk to the chocolate and stir. Mix with the rest of the almond milk and blend well. Taste and adjust sweetener as desired. A dash of salt brings out the flavors.
To make chocolate milk with cacao, put about ¼ to 1/3 cup cacao powder in a small bowl. Warm about 1 cup of the almond milk, add cacao and stir until fully dissolved. Mix with the rest of the almond milk and blend well. Taste and adjust sweetener as desired. A dash of salt brings out the flavors.
For Strawberry Almond Milk, add ½ to ¾ cup fresh or frozen strawberries to blender and add almond milk. Blend thoroughly. Taste and adjust sweetener as desired. If you don’t want any seeds in the milk, pour through a fine mesh sieve.
For Mango Almond Milk, add ½ to ¾ cup fresh ripe mango to blender and add almond milk. Blend thoroughly. Taste and adjust sweetener as desired.