It’s become a superfood sensation and we’ve all tried (or even full-on converted to) a shot of almond milk in our morning (and afternoon) coffee. Vegans and the lactose intolerant have been drinking the stuff for years, but actually, how much better is almond milk for us than normal milk – if at all?
If you’ve got no other reason for drinking almond milk than that it’s ‘better for you’, we have some news you might want to sit down for. Here’s what Simone Austin, an accredited practicing dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, has to say.
What’s actually in almond milk?
To be honest, the term does kind of sound like pure almonds that have been pressed into a liquid, but in truth almond milk is mostly water (yet, for those playing at home, the cartons are around $6). Austin tells us that there are really only a handful of almonds in every carton. “It depends on the almond milk and you do need to read the label, but for most brands it’s only five to 15 per cent almonds.”
Sometimes, manufacturers add a touch of calcium or protein in a process called ‘fortification’.
Is it better for you?
Essentially, no. Milk has a great balance of lactose (sugar), calcium and protein, whereas almond milk is lacking on all three fronts. It’s better for you in terms of being lower in saturated fat and having less calories, but even cow’s milk doesn’t have that much saturated fat (which soon becomes cholesterol) to begin with.
Austin warns that thinking you’re getting calcium or protein from almond milk should vigilantly read the labels. In most almond milks, there is only 130mg of calcium and 1.5g of protein per average glass, whereas, cow’s milk carries 300 mg of calcium and 8.5 grams of protein in the same serving size.
Austin’s advice? “If you’re not lactose intolerant, I think just stick with regular milk and have almond milk occasionally, if you want to make a drink with it or if you like the taste of it.”
What should the vegans and lactose-free do?
If you’re fully cutting out dairy and animal products from your diet then you need to keep a keen eye out for where you’re getting your calcium from. Austin suggests buying calcium fortified almond milk to keep up daily intake.
But how much?
“If you’re buying calcium fortified almond milk you want one with about 300 mg of calcium per serve. That’s the same amount as cow’s milk. You will need three glasses to make up the 900mg/day recommended calcium intake.”
Is soy better?
Before you panic and switch to soy, know that it’s not too different to the nutritional content of almond milk. It still doesn’t have much calcium, so you will need to look for an alternative source if you’re only drinking soy.
Austin suggests switching up your milks just as you would vegetables and fruit. “If you’ve already got calcium in your diet and you want an afternoon smoothie with almond milk that’s fine. If you’re not getting much protein because you’re vegan, then you might want to have a bit more soy milk in your diet as soybeans naturally have more protein.”
So, what are the doctor’s orders?
Don’t feel that you have to commit to one milk with a wedding ring and honeymoon to boot. Switching up between soy and almond milk is a great way to get the best of both worlds. And of course, if you can have cow’s milk, that’s the option Austin would recommend.
Going vegan? This is how to be a vegan safely. Plus, this is how you might actually put on weight on a vegan diet.