By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
If it was still common for the milkman to deliver Milk to your home like he did in the fifties and sixties, he might have brought you more than just regular old cow’s milk. Unlike that era, there are now many alternative, non-dairy, plant-based milks, in addition to cow’s milk, available.
And today one of the most popular of these alternative milks is almond milk.
“In fact, Almond Milk is now America’s favorite milk substitute, boasting sales growth of 250% over the past five years. During that same period, however, the total milk market shrunk by more than $1 billion,” according to this 2016 Nielsen report.
“And while almond milk still accounts for just a fraction of the total milk market (about 5%), it brings in more than twice the revenue of the other substitutes combined – holy cow!”
Furthermore, another report claims that U.S. retail sales of almond milk were projected to exceed 1.8 billion U.S. dollars by 2020.
What Exactly is Almond Milk?
“At its most basic, almond milk is a drink made from ground almonds and water,” according to one source.
You can make your own almond milk at home by essentially soaking raw almonds in water and following a few additional simple steps. You can even customize it to your personal liking and add additional ingredients such as dates, berries, cinnamon or vanilla extract. And if you buy store-bought almond milk, it will likely be fortified with vitamins and minerals and have additives such as thickening agents. You can also buy flavored almond milks, like chocolate or vanilla, and you have the option of buying sweetened or unsweetened almond milks.
Obviously, if you are allergic to almonds, almond milk may not be a viable milk option for you. But if you are lactose intolerant, vegan or simply someone who prefers to follow a dairy-free diet, almond milk may be the milk for you. It is praised for its smooth, silky taste, and some people who used to be regular cow’s milk drinkers have switched to almond milk and have never looked back.
So let’s look at some of the nutritional differences and health benefits of almond milk and cow’s milk.
Nutrients in Cow’s Milk
Cow’s milk is very nutrient-dense. It is a great source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, riboflavin, folate, vitamin B12 and protein.
“Cow's milk is considered a high-quality protein because it contains all of the essential amino acids required by the human body,” according to one report. Milk is also fortified with vitamin D.
Nutrients in Almond Milk
Almond milk contains heart-healthy fats, such as monounsaturated fatty acids (also found in avocado), and vitamins E and A. Almonds, afterall, are a nutrient-dense food.
“Almonds are rich source of other nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, selenium, potassium, zinc, phosphorus and copper. Apart from all these benefits, almond possesses potential prebiotic properties,” reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Milk & Metabolic Health
When considering whether you should go for cow’s milk or almond milk, consider your current health status. For example, if you are overweight or obese or have heart disease (or are at a high risk of it), hypertension or have high cholesterol, you may want to choose almond milk.
Almond milk (remember to buy the unsweetened kind) is lower in calories than cow’s milk. And those monounsaturated fats that almond milk contains may help prevent accumulation of abdominal fat and help with the management of diabetic health complications.
Skim cow’s milk is lower in cholesterol and saturated fat than whole cow’s milk, but almond milk may help lower bad cholesterol in the body. And whole milk is most likely not best for people with metabolic issues. It is best to speak with your doctor or a competent healthcare professional about what type of milk is personally best for you.
Milk & Nutrient Bioavailability
Nutrient bioavailability is basically a measure of how well your body can absorb nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, from things you put in your body (like food and maybe supplements).
Some reports suggest our bodies are best able to absorb nutrients from regular cow’s milk, while “[t]here is also the issue of bioavailability in plant-based milks [which includes almond milk], which refers to the actual amount of a nutrient that will be absorbed once it enters the body. For example, calcium is often added to plant-based milks to mimic levels present in cow's milk, but that doesn't mean all of it is absorbed and therefore available to be used for its intended purpose,” (CNN).
According to the NIH, a “majority of these milk alternatives lack nutritional balance when compared to bovine [cattle] milk, however they contain functionally active components with health promoting properties which attracts health conscious consumers.”
What Does All of This Mean?
You have to consider what the rest of your diet looks like when figuring out what type of milk is best for you. For example, if the calcium in fortified almond milk is not efficiently absorbed by your body but you prefer to not drink cow’s milk, then you just have to make sure you are getting other plenty of naturally calcium-rich foods in your diet. And there are plenty of calcium-rich, plant-based foods available.
It is, however, important to note that some medical professionals do not recommend plant-based milks for children under the age of 2. But every child is different, and it is best to reach out to your child’s pediatrician about what is best.
Don’t ‘Compare Apples to Oranges’
You can’t really compare cow’s milk to almond milk or plant-based milk in general. What I mean by this is that if you are hoping to drink almond milk and get the same benefits as cow’s milk, this will likely not happen. And vice versa. We just can’t ‘compare apples to oranges.’
And Don’t Forget to Take Nutrient Tests
If you’re still on the fence about what type of milk you should consume, a nutrient test may help make the decision easier. A comprehensive nutrient test will definitely determine what essential nutrients your body may be lacking or have too much of. For example, if you discover you lack calcium or are otherwise nutritionally imbalanced after taking the test, a competent healthcare professional can work with you to decide milk options, help you make other dietary changes if necessary and help you find quality supplements if necessary.
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.