Non-dairy alternatives have taken the supermarket shelves by storm.
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In fact, dairy-free milk sales have grown over 60 percent in recent years, with almond milk leading the pack followed by soy and coconut milk, according to January 2018 Mintel data.
So while the numbers tell us the plant-based milk is popular, they don't tell us much about whether almond milk is good for you.
We'll examine almond milk's nutrition, including how it stacks up to cow's milk and other dairy-free alternatives, along with its health benefits, potential risks and useful tips for enjoying it.
What Is Almond Milk?
Almond milk is a liquid made of ground almonds and filtered water. Commercial almond milk products often contain additives like thickeners to boost its shelf life and better match its consistency to cow's milk.
Is Almond Milk Healthy?
Unsweetened almond milk, when fortified, can be a nutritious addition to your diet. Because it's significantly lower in calories than cow's milk and other types of plant-based milks, it can be good for weight management. However, it contains little to no protein.
Almond milk is free of hormones and thus does not contain estrogen — sometimes a concern for milk drinkers.
Almond Milk Nutrition Facts
A single serving of almond milk is one cup. A one-cup serving of unsweetened almond milk contains:
- Calories: 39
- Total fat: 2.5 g
- Cholesterol: 0 mg
- Sodium: 188 mg
- Total carbs: 3.4 g
- Dietary fiber: 0.5 g
- Sugar: 2.1 g
- Added sugar: 0 g
- Protein: 1 g
Almond Milk Macronutrients
Total fat: A one-cup serving of unsweetened almond milk has 2.5 grams of fat, including 0.2 grams of saturated fat, 0.6 grams polyunsaturated fat and 1.5 grams of monounsaturated fat. Unsweetened almond milk is cholesterol- and trans-fat free.
Carbohydrates: A one-cup serving of unsweetened almond milk has 3.4 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber and 2.1 grams of naturally occurring sugar.
Protein: A one-cup serving of unsweetened almond milk has 1 gram of protein.
Flavored Almond Milks Have Different Macro Profiles
There are a variety of flavors of almond milk available (beyond unsweetened), such as vanilla and chocolate. The flavors will vary the calorie, carbohydrate and added sugar content of each cup significantly.
A cup of sweetened vanilla almond milk has 91 calories, 16 grams of carbs and 15 grams of sugar, while a cup of sweetened chocolate almond milk provides 120 calories, 22.5 grams of carbs and 21 grams of sugar. The various types of almond milk don’t affect the fat and protein content too much.
Vitamins, Minerals and Other Micronutrients
Most almond milks have been fortified with calcium and vitamin D but you'll want to check the nutrition facts panel to be sure.
- Vitamin D: 13% of your Daily Value (DV)
- Vitamin E: 111% DV
- Calcium: 37% DV
- One cup of almond milk is not a good source of vitamin A (0% DV), vitamin C (0% DV), potassium (4% DV), iron (4% DV), magnesium (4% DV) and zinc (1% DV).
Almond Milk vs. Milk vs. Other Non-Dairy Milk Alternatives
Health Benefits of Almond Milk
One reason almond milk is a beloved dairy alternative is because it boasts many health benefits.
1. It's Good for People With Lactose Intolerance
The majority of adults (about 65 percent) are lactose intolerant, which happens when you're unable to break down lactose, a type of sugar found in cow's milk, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Eating or drinking dairy with this condition can result in bloating, abdominal pain, nausea, flatulence and diarrhea.
For the longest time, there were limited options for anyone with lactose intolerance; but now, with the proliferation of plant-based milks, yogurts and cheeses, there are plenty of choices. Because almond milk is made from almonds and is completely dairy-free, it is considered safe for those who are lactose intolerant.
2. It's Weight-Management Friendly
This benefit comes with a caveat — you need to read the labels carefully.
There are typically regular and unsweetened almond milks and within those two categories, different flavors exist like unflavored (regular or original), vanilla, and in some cases, chocolate. If limiting your added sugar and calorie intake is important to you, you'll want to look for unsweetened almond milk.
Unsweetened almond milk can be very low in calories, averaging around 30 calories per cup. This is substantially less than cow's milk, which can range from about 80 calories per cup of skim milk to 150 calories for a cup of whole milk.
Almond milk is also a source of monounsaturated fats, aka MUFAs, which can help with weight management, along with decreasing LDL cholesterol levels, according to a January 2018 paper in the Journal of Food Science and Technology.
3. It's a Rich Source of Vitamin E
A cup of almond milk meets 111 percent of your vitamin E needs for the day.
Here's why that's so important: Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant that protects our bodies from damage from free radicals (think: cigarette smoke, air pollution and ultraviolet radiation from the sun).
There is also some debate as to whether vitamin E helps reduce the risk of heart disease, according to the NIH. Observational studies have shown an association but clinical trial results have been inconclusive.
4. It May Be Helpful In Preventing Acne
Although almond milk itself doesn't cure acne, some research suggests that swapping cow milk for dairy replacements like almond milk may help relieve breakouts in acne-prone individuals.
An early February 2005 study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that the consumption of milk during high school, especially skim milk, is linked to significantly higher rates of acne in teenagers. The researchers speculated that the bioactive compounds and hormones present in dairy products may contribute to acne.
If you or a family member is interested in swapping out cow's milk for a non-dairy alternative, it'd be wise to choose something without added sugars. Diets rich in fast-digesting carbohydrates like sugar may increase skin lesions and worsen acne, per a July 2007 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Unlike dairy milk, it's not likely that almond milk causes acne. In fact, almond milk may be good for skin.
Almond milk contains a number of skin-nourishing compounds that can potentially benefit your skin and improve your complexion. The flavonoids catechin, kaempferol and epicatechin found in almonds help prevent skin cells from oxidizing and dying, and the monounsaturated fats in almonds can help nourish your skin.
In addition, almonds and almond milk are rich in vitamin E, which may play a specific role in acne. According to a May 2006 study in Clinical and Experimental Dermatology, low levels of vitamin E are associated with severe acne. Consuming more of this nutrient through almond milk may have positive effects for your skin's condition.
While some people say that putting almond milk on your face has nourishing benefits, there's not enough evidence to say for sure.
Potential Health Risks of Almond Milk
There are currently no known drug interactions relating to almond milk. Be sure to discuss any medication and food interactions with your health professional. However, keep in mind the following before purchasing almond milk.
1. It Contains a Common Food Allergen
There are nine common food allergens — milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, shellfish and sesame — and unfortunately, almonds fall under the tree nut category.
Therefore, if you have you have a tree nut allergy, almond milk is bad for you and not the right option. Fortunately there are other dairy-free options, including oat and rice milk.
Tree nut allergies are one of the most common food allergies, according to the Food Allergy Research & Education, and reactions can be severe and potentially life-threatening. If you have this type of allergy, you'll also want to avoid cashew, coconut, macadamia and other types of tree nut milks.
2. It's Lower in Protein and Can Be Higher in Sugar
In most cases, almond milk is lower in protein compared to cow's milk. A cup of almond milk has about 1 gram of protein while regular milk has about 8 grams of protein per cup.
Another concern is added sugar. Sugar is not typically added to regular cow's milk but it is common practice to add it to plant-based milks, so this is something to keep in mind when purchasing. Look for "unsweetened" on the label.
Almond Milk Brands We Love
How to Use Almond Milk
You can purchase almond milk in the store (which is probably the easiest route), but you can also make it at home — just follow our Homemade Almond Milk recipe.
Homemade Almond Milk vs. Store Bought
The calories in homemade almond milk will vary, depending on how you make yours. Especially if you decide to keep some of the almond pulp in your homemade version, it will contain more calories than unsweetened store bought versions.
Other useful tips:
- Almond milk is located in the refrigerated section and there are other options that are sold on shelves in Tetra Paks.
- Almond milk should be refrigerated unless it's unopened in shelf-stable packaging. Once opened, all almond milk should be stored in the fridge.
- Do not freeze almond milk.
How to use almond milk:
- Try it in coffee or make a homemade latte with it.
- Splash it into smoothies.
- Add it to a bowl of cereal or oatmeal.
- Substitute it for dairy milk in homemade baked goods.
- Make chia pudding by soaking two tablespoons f seeds with a quarter cup of almond milk.
Recipes With Almond Milk
Alternatives to Almond Milk
If you're allergic to tree nuts such as almonds or simply don't like the taste of almond milk, there are plenty of other dairy-free milk alternatives to try, such as:
- Oat milk
- Soy milk
- Pea milk
- Flax milk
- Coconut milk
- Cashew milk
- Rice milk
- Hemp milk
- Mintel: "U.S. Non-Dairy Milk Sales Grow 61% Over the Last 5 Years"
- MyFoodData Central: "Almond Milk, Unsweetened"
- FoodData Central: "Almond Milk"
- MyFoodData Central: "Sweetened Vanilla Almond Milk"
- National Institutes of Health: "Lactose Intolerance"
- MyFoodData Central: "Skim Milk"
- MyFoodData Central: "Whole Milk"
- Journal of Food Science and Technology: "How Well Do Plant Based Alternatives Fare Nutritionally Compared to Cow’s Milk?"
- National Institutes of Health: "Vitamin E"
- MyFoodData Central: "Low-Fat Milk 2%"
- Food Allergy Research & Education: "Tree Nut Allergy"
- Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology: "High school dietary dairy intake and teenage acne"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "A low-glycemic-load diet improves symptoms in acne vulgaris patients: a randomized controlled trial"
- Clinical and Experimental Dermatology: "Does the plasma level of vitamins A and E affect acne condition?"
- Mintel Press Office: US NON-DAIRY MILK SALES GROW 61% OVER THE LAST FIVE YEARS
- HISTORY OF SOYMILK AND OTHER NON-DAIRY MILKS
- USDA Food Composition Database