Is this nut-based milk alternative really good for you? Which nutrients does it contain, and how does it compare to cow's milk? A nutritionist explains.
What is almond milk?
Almond milk is essentially a liquid made from blended almonds. The almonds are soaked overnight in water to soften them before being blended and strained to make a milk alternative. Salt and/or sweeteners, such as honey, can then also be added.
You can make almond milk yourself at home, or you can buy it from most supermarkets and health food shops. However, store-bought almond milks tend to be made with more water and rice milk, so can be more diluted than what you could make at home.
Nutritionally, store-bought almond milk is a low-calorie product with just 56 calories per 100ml. It's typically low in fat, with just 1.5g per 100g – all of which is largely unsaturated fat. And, it's also low in fibre and protein as a result of the straining method, with less than 0.5g of each per 100ml. The blending and straining process also increases the carbohydrates, with an average of 10g per 100ml, of which 5g is sugar.
Sweetened varieties of almond milk are even higher in sugar, and those with added salt will naturally have a higher salt content.
Almonds are a good source of vitamin E, which is an important antioxidant that helps maintain healthy skin and eyes, as well as supporting the immune system. Almond milk is also a good vegan source of calcium, with around 120mg per 100ml – the recommended daily allowance is 700mg – which is needed to help build strong bones and ensure that our blood clots normally.
Some commercial brands are also fortified with extra vitamins, including vitamin D, which is needed to help regulate calcium in the body and support our immune system. Vitamin B12 is sometimes also added, which is involved in keeping the nervous system healthy.
While there is no nutritional data available on homemade almond milk, it can be assumed that all of the nutrient values should be higher, as the end product will generally contain a higher nut percentage than commercial products, along with less added sugar and salt.
Is almond milk healthier than cow’s milk?
From a purely caloric point of view, almond milk is lower in calories than whole cow's milk, has the same calories as semi-skimmed cow's milk, and contains more calories than skimmed cow's milk.
Both options provide about the same amount of calcium per 100ml (around 120mg), but cow’s milk will not have the addition of vitamin E or vitamin D, both of which are found in almonds or added to the end product. Both cow's and almond milk contain about the same levels of vitamin B12, so nutritionally, almond milk may be slightly healthier than cow’s milk.
However, if you look at the macronutrients, cow’s milk contains more protein and fat than almond milk and is lower in carbohydrates – so it probably has the slight edge over almond milk. If you tend to buy sweetened almond milk, then cow’s milk is nutritionally preferable.
For those who struggle digesting dairy, are lactose-intolerant, have a cow’s milk allergy or are following a vegan diet, almond milk is a good dairy-free alternative.
What is a healthy portion size of almond milk?
A healthy portion would be around 250ml, enough for cereal or tea and coffee during the day.
Like cow’s milk, you can use almond milk in any recipe that requires milk as an ingredient, and it works well as a dairy-free alternative.
Is almond milk suitable for everyone?
Almond milk is not suitable for those with a nut allergy, and it should be avoided if you have one.
For children, cow’s milk is a good source of important nutrients, and it's recommended that you speak to your GP before swapping to almond milk – especially as you'll need to rule out any potential nut allergies in young children.
How to buy the best almond milk
Making your own almond milk is always best if you have the time, but if you're buying a commercial variety, look for unsweetened almond milks. Check the ingredients list too, as many brands use rice milk as a base, which means lower almond – and therefore micronutrient – content.
Try making your own almond milk with our recipe.
More health benefits guides
This article was published on 18 June 2019.
Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.
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