AUTHORITY NUTRITION

9 Science-Based Health Benefits of Almond Milk

Written by Elise Mandl, BSc, APD on December 24, 2017

Usually, extra nutrients such as calcium, riboflavin, vitamin E and vitamin D are added to it to boost its nutritional content.

Many commercial varieties are available, and some people make their own at home.

It’s great for those who cannot or choose not to drink cow’s milk, as well as people who just like the taste.

This article takes a closer look at the 9 most important health benefits of almond milk.

Almonds and Almond Milk

Almond milk is much lower in calories than cow’s milk.

Some people find this confusing, as almonds are known to be high in calories and fat. However, due to the way almond milk is processed, only a very small portion of almonds is present in the finished product.

This is great for people who want to cut calories and lose weight.

One cup (240 ml) of unsweetened almond milk contains about 30–50 calories, while the same amount of whole dairy milk contains 146 calories. That means almond milk contains 65–80% fewer calories (, , ).

Restricting your calorie intake is an effective way to lose weight, especially in combination with exercise. Even a moderate weight loss of 5–10% of your body weight can help prevent and manage conditions such as diabetes (, ).

If you are trying to lose weight, simply replacing two or three daily servings of dairy with almond milk would result in a daily calorie reduction of up to 348 calories.

Since most moderate weight loss strategies recommend eating approximately 500 fewer calories per day, drinking almond milk could be a simple way to help you lose weight.

Keep in mind that sweetened commercial varieties can be much higher in calories, as they contain added sugars. Additionally, unfiltered homemade versions may have a greater amount of almonds left in them, so they can also be higher in calories.

Summary Unsweetened almond milk contains up to 80% fewer calories than regular dairy milk. Using it as a replacement for cow's milk could be an effective weight loss strategy.

Unsweetened varieties of almond milk are very low in sugar.

One cup (240 ml) of almond milk contains only 1–2 grams of carbs, most of which is dietary fiber. In comparison, 1 cup (240 ml) of dairy milk contains 13 grams of carbs, most of which is sugar (, , ).

It is important to note that many commercial varieties of almond milk are sweetened and flavored with added sugars. These varieties may contain about 5–17 grams of sugar per cup (240 ml) (, ).

Therefore, it is important to always check the nutrition label and ingredients list for added sugars.

However, unsweetened almond milk could aid those trying to restrict their sugar intake.

For example, people with diabetes often need to limit their daily carbohydrate intake. Replacing dairy milk with almond milk may be a good way to achieve this ().

Summary Unsweetened almond milk is naturally low in sugar, making it suitable for those restricting their sugar intake, such as people with diabetes. However, many varieties are sweetened, so it is still important to check the nutrition label.

Almonds are naturally high in vitamin E, providing 37% of the daily vitamin E requirement in just 1 ounce (28 grams) ().

Therefore, almond milk is also a natural source of vitamin E, though most commercial varieties also add extra vitamin E during processing ().

One cup of almond milk (240 ml) provides 20–50% of your daily vitamin E requirement, depending on the brand. In comparison, dairy milk contains no vitamin E at all (, , ).

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that combats inflammation and stress in the body (, ).

It helps protect against heart disease and cancer, and it may also have beneficial effects on bone and eye health (, , , ).

What’s more, vitamin E has been found to significantly benefit brain health. Studies have found that it improves mental performance. It also appears to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease and may slow its progression ().

Summary One cup (240 ml) of almond milk can provide 20–50% of your daily vitamin E requirement. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that can reduce inflammation, stress and the risk of disease.

Milk and other dairy products are key sources of calcium in many people’s diets. One cup (240 ml) of whole milk provides 28% of the daily recommended intake ().

In comparison, almonds contain only a small amount of calcium, just 7% of the daily requirement in 1 ounce (28 grams) ().

Because almond milk is most often used as a replacement for dairy milk, manufacturers enrich it with calcium to ensure people are not missing out ().

Calcium is an important mineral for the development and health of bones. It also helps reduce the risk of fractures and osteoporosis ().

Additionally, calcium is necessary for the proper functioning of the heart, nerves and muscles.

One cup of almond milk (240 ml) provides 20–45% of the recommended daily intake for calcium (, ).

Some brands use a type of calcium called tricalcium phosphate, rather than calcium carbonate. However, tricalcium phosphate is not as well absorbed. To see what type of calcium is used in your almond milk, check the ingredients label ().

If you are making almond milk yourself at home, you may need to find other sources of calcium to supplement your diet, such as cheese, yogurt, fish, seeds, legumes and leafy greens.

Summary Almond milk is enriched with calcium to provide 20–45% of your daily requirements per serving. Calcium is particularly important for bone health, including the prevention of fractures and osteoporosis.

Vitamin D is an important nutrient for many aspects of good health, including heart function, bone health and immune function (, ).

Your body can produce it when your skin is exposed to sunlight. However, 30–50% of people do not get enough vitamin D due to their skin color, lifestyle, long work hours or simply living in an area where there is limited sunlight ().

Vitamin D deficiency is associated with an increased risk of cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, fertility issues, autoimmune diseases and infectious diseases (, , , ).

Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D, so manufacturers may fortify foods with it. Products that are often fortified with vitamin D include milk, juices, cereals, cheese, margarine and yogurt (, ).

Most almond milks are fortified with vitamin D2, also known as ergocalciferol. On average, 1 cup (240 ml) of fortified almond milk provides 25% of the recommended daily intake for vitamin D (, ).

Homemade almond milk will not contain any vitamin D, so you will need to seek other dietary sources if you are not getting enough vitamin D from sunlight.

Summary Vitamin D is a nutrient essential to good health, although 30–50% of people are deficient. Almond milk is fortified with vitamin D and provides about a quarter of the recommended daily intake in a 1-cup (240-ml) serving.

Lactose intolerance is a condition in which people are unable to digest lactose, the sugar in milk.

It is caused by a deficiency in lactase, the enzyme that’s responsible for breaking down lactose into a more digestible form. This deficiency may be caused by genetics, aging or certain medical conditions ().

Intolerance can cause a variety of uncomfortable symptoms, including stomach pain, bloating and gas (, ).

Lactose intolerance is estimated to affect up to 75% of people worldwide. It is least common in white people of European descent, affecting 5–17% of the population. However, in South America, Africa and Asia, the rates are as high as 50–100% (, ).

Because almond milk is naturally lactose-free, it is a suitable alternative for people who have lactose intolerance.

Summary Up to 75% of the world's population is lactose intolerant. Almond milk is naturally lactose-free, making it a good alternative to dairy.

Some people choose to avoid dairy milk as a religious, health, environmental or lifestyle choice, such as veganism ().

Since almond milk is fully plant-based, it is suitable for all these groups and can be used in place of dairy milk on its own or in any recipe.

Additionally, almond milk is free of the proteins that cause milk allergy in up to 0.5% of adults (,,).

While soy milk has been a traditional alternative to dairy milk for adults, up to 14% of people who are allergic to dairy milk are also allergic to soy milk. Therefore, almond milk provides a good alternative ().

However, given that almond milk is very low in digestible protein compared to dairy milk, it is not suitable as a replacement for infants or young children with milk allergies. Instead, they may require specialized formulas ().

Summary Almond milk is completely plant-based, making it suitable for vegans and other people who avoid dairy products. It is also suitable for people who have a dairy allergy. Because it’s low in protein, it is not suitable as a full replacement for dairy in young children.

People with chronic kidney disease often avoid milk due to its high levels of phosphorus and potassium (, ).

Because their kidneys are not able to properly clear these nutrients, there is a risk they will build up in the blood.

Too much phosphorus in the blood increases the risk of heart disease, hyperparathyroidism and bone disease. Meanwhile, too much potassium increases the risk of irregular heart rhythm, heart attack and death (, ).

Dairy milk contains 233 mg of phosphorus and 366 mg of potassium per cup (240 ml), while the same amount of almond milk contains only 20 mg of phosphorus and 160 mg of potassium ().

However, the amounts may vary from brand to brand, so you may need to check with the manufacturer.

If you have kidney disease, your individual requirements and limits may vary depending on your stage of disease and current blood levels of potassium and phosphorus ().

However, almond milk can be a suitable alternative for people trying to reduce their intake of potassium and phosphorus due to kidney disease.

Summary People with chronic kidney disease often avoid dairy due to its high levels of potassium and phosphorus. Almond milk has much lower levels of these nutrients and may be a suitable alternative.

Almond milk can be used in any way that regular dairy milk can be used.

Below are some ideas about how to include it in your diet:

  • As a nutritious, refreshing drink
  • In cereal, muesli or oats at breakfast
  • In your tea, coffee or hot chocolate
  • In smoothies
  • In cooking and baking, such as recipes for muffins and pancakes
  • In soups, sauces or dressings
  • In your own homemade ice cream
  • In homemade almond yogurt

To make 1 cup (240 ml) of almond milk at home, blend a half cup of soaked, skinless almonds with 1 cup (240 ml) of water. Then use a nut bag to strain the solids from the mixture.

You can make it thicker or thinner by adjusting the quantity of water. The milk can be kept for up to two days in the refrigerator.

Summary You can drink almond milk on its own, added to cereals and coffee or used in a variety of recipes for cooking and baking. You can make it at home by blending soaked almonds with water, then straining the mixture.

Almond milk is a tasty, nutritious milk alternative that has many important health benefits.

It is low in calories and sugar and high in calcium, vitamin E and vitamin D.

Additionally, it is suitable for people with lactose intolerance, a dairy allergy or kidney disease, as well as those who are vegan or avoiding dairy for any other reason.

You can use almond milk in any way that you would use regular dairy milk.

Try adding it to cereal or coffee, mixing it into smoothies and using it in recipes for ice cream, soups or sauces.

An evidence-based nutrition article from our experts at Authority Nutrition.

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