A quick search online shows a half-gallon of almond milk is about 1.5 times more expensive than a half-gallon of milk (and still more than a gallon of milk), so what is the appeal of almond milk and how does it compare?
At one time, almond milk was the choice alternative beverage for its creamy texture and slightly nutty flavor. To turn almonds into “milk,” the nuts are generally ground, combined with water, and filtered. Almond production has greatly increased in recent years due to increasing demand amongst those seeking alternatives to real milk.
However, those consumers seeking sustainable foods are realizing the downside of almond milk. The downside of almond milk when it comes to sustainability is simple: almonds require a lot of water. Almond milk requires more water than any other dairy alternative: It takes 130 pints of water to produce a single glass of almond milk. It should be noted that almond growers are designing better practices like irrigation systems to improve water use, but the rise in popularity of the food is not helping its image in sustainability efforts yet.
Nutritionally, it’s a little more complicated. Though it could be argued that almonds themselves are worth the extra water due to it being nutrient-dense, the process above of turning the nuts into a milk alternative reduces most of the nutrient package that water helped create. Further, people may choose almond milk over real milk or its alternatives because they believe it has a high number of almonds in the carton. However, depending on the brand, almond milk may contain as little as two percent almonds. With so few almonds in each carton, you’d get very few nutrients even if they were kept intact.
And this shows. Real milk provides 8 grams of high-quality protein in every 8-ounce glass, about 8 times more than a serving of almond milk. (One ounce of almonds—not almond milk—provides about 6 grams of protein.)
Why this difference between almond nutrition and that of almond milk? Almond milk is also fortified with riboflavin, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and calcium, 2 of which are already found in almonds. (Almonds contain naturally occurring riboflavin, calcium, vitamin E, monounsaturated fats, fiber, biotin, phosphorus, and magnesium.) Almond milk is fortified because many of almonds’ nutrients are lost in the process of making milk.
Real milk, which naturally contains above-mentioned protein as well as calcium, potassium, riboflavin, phosphorus, vitamin B12, and niacin, is fortified with vitamin A and vitamin D, too. In many almond milk brands, there is added sugar, as well as possible additives like lecithin and calcium carbonate, while real milk has no added sugar unless flavored, naturally including a sugar called lactose.
Real milk provides a greater list of benefits than that of almond milk. One of the original farm-to-table foods, milk is a minimally processed, local beverage. The almond alternative cannot compare.
Though almonds are comparable to other alternative “milks” on their greenhouse gas emissions or land use, they gulp up water. For a product that uses so little of the nut it is named after—a more realistic name would be water with a hint of almond—there is little excuse for its sustainability record. If consumers want the benefits of almonds, eating almonds in moderation is a better solution than almond milk nutritionally and environmentally. When choosing milk, skip the alternatives and reach for the real thing.