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Is commercial almond milk really healthy?

Lady_Tenar Jan 8, 2012 05:18 PM

I really like milk but I'm trying to decrease the amount of dairy I consume, so I'm giving almond milk a shot. I just bought half a gallon of the 365 Whole Foods brand, organic and unsweetened. It tastes surprisingly good but I do wonder if it's actually healthy. There seem to be a lot of additives (gelling agents etc.) in it and most of the vitamins seem to also be added to it. Does it have any nutritional value outside of the vitamins it's supplemented with? Is it worth the additives? Are they bad for you? Does anyone have any information on this?

I know the additives could be avoided by making my own almond milk, but I simply don't have that kind of time (or money!) on a regular basis to put into making a food that's a regular staple for me.

  1. MandalayVA Jan 8, 2012 05:34 PM


    Just kidding. Almond milk's a good alternative if you're lactose intolerant. You'd probably be better off buying Almond Breeze, which has a few less additives and is shelf-stable, rather than the 365 stuff. It's cheaper too. I don't drink it on a regular basis but once in a while the unsweetened chocolate satisfies a cocoa jones.

    1. Chemicalkinetics Jan 8, 2012 06:16 PM

      Almonds (like many nuts) are rich in omega-3 and antioxidants. Every things are relatives. Almond milk is certainly considered as healthy compared to many other drinks. Yet, individuals are different.

      1. ipsedixit Jan 8, 2012 07:19 PM

        Whether it is "healthy" is all sort of relative.

        It's certainly healthier than Kool-Aid. But probably not as healthy as, say, homemade fresh "squeezed" almond juice.

        9 Replies
        1. re: ipsedixit
          ferret Jan 9, 2012 06:39 AM

          I disagree. We buy the Blue Diamond refrigerated variety and there's nothing "unhealthy" about the ingredients.


          1. re: ferret
            danna Jan 9, 2012 08:07 AM

            thanks for the link. I don't see anything objectionable. I just bought a container of the shelf stable variety and have been using it to make hot chocolate. How long do you think it's good in the fridge once I open it?

            1. re: danna
              goodhealthgourmet Jan 9, 2012 08:22 AM

              longer than you'd think. keep it in a cold part of the fridge (i.e. not on the door) and it should keep for at least several weeks. i prefer to make my own almond milk for drinking, but i do use the commercial stuff for cooking & baking and i don't think i've ever had an open container go bad on me even when it took me quite a while to use it up.

            2. re: ferret
              StringerBell Apr 14, 2012 11:58 AM

              except for the carrageenan

              1. re: StringerBell
                goodhealthgourmet Apr 14, 2012 12:19 PM

                what's "unhealthy" about a seaweed extract?

                1. re: goodhealthgourmet
                  StringerBell Apr 15, 2012 02:06 PM

                  Well, there is a ton of evidence regarding degraded carrageenan (poligeenan) being carcinogenic, a gastrointestinal irritant, and macrophage inhibitor, and producing ulcers. It's regularly used and well known for inducing inflammation, edema, and ulcers in lab rats. Only undegraded carrageenan can be used in food, but some of it gets degraded to the shorter chain poilgeenan during acid hydrolysis (e.g. digestion), and possibly during cooking processes as well. There are a lot of anecdotal reports of people getting headaches and gastrointestinal problems from consuming products that contain carrageenan as well. There have also been studies showing a lot of negative effects on cells in vitro at very low concentrations too, but of course in vitro studies don't necessarily correlate to in vivo effects. I don't think it's terribly bad, but like a lot of somewhat questionable additives I'm going to avoid it because it's unnecessary. I would rather consume natural foods and not someone's science experiment.

                  Andrew Weil recommends avoiding it http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/id/QAA44833

                  1. re: StringerBell
                    goodhealthgourmet Apr 15, 2012 03:09 PM

                    i'm with you on the "science experiment" issue, and like you, i try to avoid any unnecessary additives in my food. i actually make my own almond milk because i prefer the taste & purity.

                    i've seen that Weil link - it's from ten years ago, and i usually only agree with about 70% of his recommendations, give or take a bit - IMO he pushes too much grain & soy. anyway, i'm not disagreeing with you that some people may react negatively to carrageenan. heck, i react badly to even small amounts of guar or xanthan gum, psyllium, inulin fructose, added MSG...so i steer clear of most isolated additives as a rule. but i've never personally had a problem with carrageenan, and it's present in such a negligible amount in Almond Breeze that i guess i'd just rather see someone choose that over soymilk (which also often contains carrageenan but my problem is with the processed soy), or dairy from factory-farmed cows, or rice milk (which, IMO, provides zero nutritional benefit).

                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet
                      StringerBell Apr 15, 2012 03:55 PM

                      I've done a lot of searching and there doesn't seem to be much evidence from the last 10 years either way, and little evidence about how much gets degraded during digestion. I couldn't really find any human studies to speak of from any time period. I would rather err on the side of caution with things like that though. Silk brand's almond milk does not contain any carrageenan, and some others don't as well, but I agree it's better to make your own.

                      I personally don't notice any reaction from carrageenan such as headaches or stomach irritation. I don't have any known allergies or sensitivities though, I can eat pretty much anything without reaction. The only foods that I get a bad reaction from are soy sauce and large amounts of HFCS. If I eat anything with a lot of soy sauce or drinks full of HFCS I feel really awful, strange, and run down for several hours afterwards.

                      I'm also not a fan of soy milk, I generally avoid all soy products. I do make rice milk quite a because I love horchata (Mexican style).

                      I disagree with Weil quite a bit, but he is usually pretty reasonable about diet and actually has a fair bit of knowledge about diet and nutrition unlike the great majority of MDs. I have a strong feeling that if I held up a picture of a prickly pear or parsnip or something that 90% of MDs wouldn't be able to identify them. The Harvard School of Public Health is about the only nutrition group I find trustworthy.

                      1. re: StringerBell
                        goodhealthgourmet Apr 15, 2012 04:38 PM

                        i haven't had horchata in ages. yum. but making rice milk yourself for that purpose isn't the same as using commercially-produced rice milk as an everyday stand-in for dairy milk.

                        and you're right about the nutritional ignorance of most MDs - it's a sad state of affairs.

          2. a
            amyatkendall Jan 9, 2012 05:42 AM

            In addition to being a good alternative for the lactose intolerant, it's also a good substitute for diabetics (such as myself). It's lower in carbs than regular milk.

            1. 64airstream Jan 20, 2012 01:12 AM

              Is it really more expensive to make at home? I do know it's ridiculously easy, since I do it almost every day :-) It certainly tastes much better than commercial brands, IMO.

              The commercial brands add in gelling agents (maybe flavoring agents, also) because they are trying to get away with the highest water:almond ratio as possible, giving you more water with stuff added to trick you into a more pleasant "mouthfeel". So keep in mind what you are paying for, which is less almond goodness and more water.

              I make mine with less water than most recipes and add a touch of pure vanilla and salt. Excellent in coffee! Plus you get the almond grounds. I usually add them to chili or meatloaf. You can use them in baking, too, I just don't really ever bake, so I've never tried it.

              2 Replies
              1. re: 64airstream
                coroa Mar 28, 2013 09:27 AM

                Any chance you can forward me a recipe?

                1. re: coroa
                  Ttrockwood Jan 15, 2014 07:22 PM

                  This is a great step by step guide- be sure to save the almond pulp! (You can freeze it too)

              2. s
                sueatmo Apr 14, 2012 03:23 PM

                It depends on why you are drinking almond milk. I use it because I need to limit carbs. Others drink it for other reasons. If you have no probs with dairy, or probs with lactose or carbs, then I don't know why you'd want it. But if you do have some of those concerns, then it is healthy for you.

                1. AeroDoe Apr 14, 2012 03:49 PM

                  I'm gonna guess that you've never had a kidney stone if you're drinking almond milk. And I truly hope you never do.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: AeroDoe
                    swerves Apr 14, 2012 04:11 PM

                    almond milk causes kidney stones? well that doesn't sound very healthy.

                    1. re: swerves
                      AeroDoe Apr 14, 2012 04:51 PM

                      It depends on a lot of factors, but almonds can cause kidney stones. My evidence is purely anecdotal - I got kidney stones twice, and both times I had been sitting for hours in front of a lame Nintendo game eating chocolate-covered almonds. (Chocolate is also stone-producing) Kidney stones hurt so much that I have not eaten an almond since (And I have NO willpower at all. On "fasting days" I eat more by 11AM than on "feasting days." ) I LOVE almonds, but I will never eat one again!

                      1. re: AeroDoe
                        ferret Apr 14, 2012 07:15 PM

                        Given the many months it takes for stones to form, it's hard to isolate any single source as the the cause. I went through about a 15-year period, regular passing kidney stones. The list of foods they tell you to avoid is fairly lengthy and I didn't really stick to a "healthy" diet. If anything, my diet's become less healthy over time with no kidney stones in the last decade. And I probably go through a half pound of almonds a week at work.

                        So unless the OP has a known health condition that would lead her to avoid almonds, I wouldn't warn her away from almond milk.

                        1. re: ferret
                          AeroDoe Apr 14, 2012 07:45 PM

                          I can't think of a more uninteresting discussion than this so I'm not gonna defend what I admitted was anecdotal evidence.

                          I'll bow out now, acknowledging that I asked for it.

                          Mea culpa.

                        2. re: AeroDoe
                          Chemicalkinetics Apr 15, 2012 03:06 PM

                          <I had been sitting for hours in front of a lame Nintendo game eating chocolate-covered almonds>

                          Probably it is the Nintendo which caused the kidney stones. This is why I had switched from Nintendo to Playstation. Just saying.

                    2. c
                      celesul Apr 17, 2012 09:21 AM

                      It's supplemented with vitamins because it is used as a milk substitute, and milk is considered a source of calcium, etc. The idea is to prevent nutritional deficiencies (adding vitamin D to milk and iodine to salt is a result of the same idea, and quite effective). I doubt that there is much (if anything) in the way of preservatives, because almond milk has a shockingly long shelf life without any help (it was used in medieval kitchens, because regular milk spoiled so quickly without refrigeration that it was used mostly for butter and cheese).

                      Nutritionally, almond milk is mostly water. It has a bit of fat, sugar, protein, calories, and vitamins from almonds. So, it's not very nutritious in the same way that water isn't very nutritious.

                      I suspect that almond milk is healthier than milk, except for people who are trying to put on weight (almond milk should not be substituted for milk in baby formula because it doesn't provide the calories, fat, or sugar necessary for such intense growth). However, given that most adults really, really don't want to gain weight, almond milk is probably better.

                      1. GraceW Aug 4, 2012 02:03 PM

                        I recently tried Almond milk (unsweetened)--no matter what I add.. a bit of sweetener, cinnamon, etc. it tastes like corn to me?

                        Anyone else think almond milk tastes like corn?

                        1. j
                          JudiAU Aug 4, 2012 08:32 PM

                          I thought that coconut milk as a prepared beverage had the best nutritional profile, with almond milk second and soy a toss up based on the research du jour.

                          We are lucky enough to get grass fed cow's milk this summer so consume neither.

                          1. r
                            Rion71 Feb 24, 2013 06:29 PM

                            Hi! I accidentally found this blog while I was searching the almond health benefits. I started to prepare almond milk at home as I wanted to decrease my diary intake (I think I’m a little intolerant – not much, but I do love cheese a lot so I prefer to replace the milk). Preparing the almond milk yourself is less expensive than buying the ready-to-drink product from the supermarket, not to mention that it is pure and without additives - even the organic version will have some additives and preservatives. The fresh almond milk lasts max. 4-5 days in the fridge so I bet they add all kinds of crap to make it last longer and to make it thicket. It is so easy and fast to make that I will never buy it at the supermarket anymore.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Rion71
                              Cherylmcg Mar 19, 2014 08:27 AM

                              How do you make almond milk and where do you buy the almonds?

                              1. re: Cherylmcg
                                Ttrockwood Mar 19, 2014 05:48 PM

                                This step by step guide is excellent for how to make almond milk, also posted upthread:

                                Almonds can be purchased nearly anywhere now, best prices will be found at trader joes, costco, or amazon.com.
                                Note that making you own is not a significant cost savings.

                            2. w
                              wapfcat Mar 28, 2013 09:32 AM

                              Almonds are high in phytic acid - an antinutrient that prevents the proper breakdown and digestion of our food. Phytic acid is deactivated through soaking. There might, somewhere, be a company that sells almond milk from soaked almonds, but you're better off making your own.

                              Plus, as you say, there's all the additives. And supplemental vitamins are generally going to be artificial vitamins that your body can't use as effectively anyways.

                              1. s
                                shellbell01199 Jan 15, 2014 05:50 PM

                                Milk these days is full of antibiotics and non dairy substances If anything, almond milk is way healthier than dairy milk and contains more calcium. Just stay away from carageenen which fortunately is not found in whole foods almond milk.

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