By Claire Hansen
Blog Content Contributor
As years pass, the quiet voice that is almond milk in a world of cow’s milk and dairy products is starting to get louder and louder. For nutrition nuts like me, this is fantastic news. For others, it can be frightening. With the surfacing of new data, I feel safe saying that we are on the brink of a health revolution. I could write about the benefits of different health foods and cooking tips all day long, but for now I think it’s time we take a closer look at almond milk and see what all the hype is about.
Although it may seem like almond milk is a very new idea, it has actually been around since the middle ages. According to “Food in Medieval Times” by Melitta Weiss Adamson, some noble households favored it over animal milk. Yes, that is correct. Even the most royal citizens prefered almond milk, and this was long before we knew anything about the nutritional profiles of the two. Anyway, the reason for the most recent spike in almond milk popularity is not all due to its amazing taste. There are several important qualities of almond milk that are essential to our health, which is why it has taken its place as the runner up against cow’s milk.
Let’s begin with the most obvious difference — the nutrition facts. By simply comparing a label from a carton of reduced fat cow’s milk to that of unsweetened vanilla almond milk side by side, one can see that just the calories present a major distinction. One cup of almond milk contains just 30 calories, as opposed to cow’s milk’s 120. That means cow’s milk has four times the amount of calories that almond milk has! Not to mention almost twice the amount of fat, too. When it comes to sugar cow’s milk takes the lead there, too. It contains 12 grams of sugar per cup, whereas unsweetened almond milk usually contains less than one gram. However, the sugar and fat content in sweetened almond milk is usually a lot higher, and certain types of cow’s milk, like the skim and nonfat kind, are often closer in nutritional content to almond milk than the one we’re looking at today. Cow’s milk does surpass almond milk in two areas, though: protein and calcium. With eight grams of protein per cup and 30 percent of the recommended daily value of calcium, it is hard to say that cow’s milk offers no nutrition at all. Yet, manufacturers still try to make almond milk as cow-like as possible, by creating fortified versions which normally contain equal or larger amounts of added calcium and vitamins A, D, E and B12.
But wait, there’s more!
The benefits of drinking almond milk extend far beyond what we see on the nutrition labels. For someone who is trying to lose weight, making the simple switch to almond milk could aid them a great deal in their journey due to almond milk’s low-caloric nature. To further that statement, the American Heart Association claims that almond milk is cholesterol free and contains monounsaturated fats, and when used to replace saturated fats (aka the fats that exist in cow’s milk), can be very beneficial for your heart. Almond milk has also been shown to lower one’s risk of developing prostate cancer by more than 30 percent, whereas cow’s milk actually stimulated the growth of those unwanted cells, as suggested by a study published in Nutrition and Cancer. The fact that almond milk is dairy-free makes it a perfect option for those with dairy and lactose intolerances, and of course the vegan folk as well. Did you know that, according to a recent article published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 75 percent of the world’s population suffers from lactose intolerance? Perhaps we were never meant to drink milk in the first place! After all, the sole purpose of cow’s milk is to help baby cows grow up to weigh around 1,000 pounds. So, moderation is clearly key here.
Now, I do not think anyone is saying that cow’s milk or milk from any animal should be completely banned and removed from all existence as we know it. We do not have to dip our cookies in almond milk all the time. Ice cream and grilled cheese sandwiches are two of the world’s greatest treasures, so it would be absurd to say that we should never allow ourselves to taste those things again. The key to maintaining a healthy relationship with our diet is all about finding balance. For example, I am someone who pretty much always sticks to almond milk and other dairy alternatives when I am out grocery shopping, but when I made my own birthday cake this summer, did I use fake butter and almond milk? Absolutely not. It was a special occasion for me, and those are the times when it is okay to let loose a little! Let us not forget that life is about nourishing the soul, too. The steps taken towards a healthier lifestyle should not feel like a battle, but rather a growing friendship.
It has been delightful to see almond milk become incorporated into more and more products throughout the last few years. It is typical to see things like almond milk ice cream, cheese, yogurt and even almond milk eggnog in the aisle that was once dominated by dairy. I continue to try the new creations as I find them, and although some could still use a little refining, it makes me happy to see brands trying to adapt to the shifting normalities and doing their part to help push America towards a brighter future. Do yourself a favor this semester and join the movement by simply giving it a try the next time you stop at H-E-B! Your body will thank you.
Featured image by Claire Hansen.