In a constant effort to be our best, healthiest selves, we find ourselves searching grocery store shelves for foods and drinks that promise to boost our diet, complexion, and overall wellbeing—not take away from it. In doing so, it's impossible to ignore almond milk.
The nut-based dairy alternative has skyrocketed in popularity among health nuts and people with lactose intolerance, while everyone else (hey, hi, hello) wonders whether it's really worth the swap.
Considering almond milk offers a variety of nutrients with a potentially lower possibility of inflammation, many dietitians recommend the buzzy beverage. However, though experts agree that almond milk is generally safe, whether or not you should make the switch ultimately depends on your dietary needs and factors such as your age, lifestyle, and health concerns.
Curious if you should toss your dairy milk and make room for the nutty fave? Keep reading to see what three of New York City's top nutritionists have to say.
How Is Almond Milk Different Than Regular Milk?
As you may have guessed, the biggest difference between traditional milk and almond milk is that the former is made with dairy, while the latter is created from nuts. Despite being processed (albeit minimally), almond milk is still incredibly nutritious:
"Almond milk is a nutrient-dense and calorically-low alternative to dairy milk," says Chelsea Nutrition founder Jennifer Maeng. "It’s high in vitamin E and monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA), low in saturated fats, and low in cholesterol and carbohydrate content, especially when compared to cow’s milk." What's more, she points out that almond milk is also fortified with calcium and Vitamins A and D to mimic the micronutrient content of dairy milk. "It is a great alternative to cow’s milk if you are sensitive or allergic to milk but is not a great replacement for cow’s milk for toddlers or adolescents due to its low fat and low protein content," she adds.
Is Almond Milk a Good Choice for Weight Management?
While almond milk isn't a great replacement for little ones, Maeng says that it's an adequate option for anyone hoping to manage their weight. "Unsweetened almond milk is low in calories and it's nutrient-dense," she starts. "This, coupled with its high MUFA (monounsaturated fatty acid) content, makes almond milk a great alternative for those looking to manage their weight or lose weight."
However, she reminds us to remember that not all almond milks are created equally. "Some varieties of almond milk contain higher amounts of added sugar which may contribute to weight gain," she explains, noting that, if weight loss and overall health is the goal, it's important to read nutrition labels before adding almond milk to your routine.
Does Almond Milk Impede Digestion?
Considering dairy milk can be tough on digestion for some folks, you might be wondering if the same is true of almond milk. Fortunately, considering almond milk is high in fiber, it often aids in digestion, rather than causing a "block," so to speak. Additionally, NYC-based dietitian Amy Shapiro of Real Nutrition says that "The most recent research shows that almond milk is not a high FODMAP food and, in portions of one-cup, should be easy to digest."
FODMAP, or fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols, are groups of carbs (including sugars) that can cause digestive symptoms like bloating, gas and stomach pain.
That said, a 2017 study found that carrageenan, an emulsifier commonly added to almond milk to achieve the creamy texture, can irritate the gut. Though, the chief authors mention that more conclusive research is still necessary to definitively determine whether almond milk substantially affects digestion. Regardless, if you want to avoid the chance of an upset stomach at all costs, you can check the ingredient label for carrageenan and steer clear of formulas rich in it.
Beyond carrageenan, it's important to remember that almonds are tree nuts. Therefore, if you have a tree nut allergy, it's best to avoid almond milk altogether.
Is Almond Milk Safe?
In short, yes. Unless you have a nut allergy, it's very unlikely that almond milk will cause unsettling side effects in the body common with traditional dairy milk.
Just because almond milk is safe, however, doesn't mean it's necessarily the all-around best bet. "Almond milk is not bad for you, but it is a less nutritious option for milk," says NYC-based dietitian Fiorella DiCarlo, noting that she always recommends dairy milk versus almond or soy milk since all the minerals in almond milk are added, as opposed to naturally occurring.
Additionally, almond milk is lower in protein than traditional milk (and even some other dairy alternatives), so if protein consumption is a concern, Maeng says that it's important to intentionally seek out higher-protein options like Orgain Organic’s Protein Almond Milk ($36 for a 6-pack), which is fortified with plant-based proteins.
Lastly, Maeng says that special considerations should also be made for those who are prone to kidney stones: "Almond milk can be fortified with calcium oxalate and excessive consumption of the ingredient may increase the formation of kidney stones," she explains.
Does Drinking Almond Milk Affect Your Skin?
Since classic dairy milk can cause inflammation for some, the question often arises whether or not almond milk does the same. While there aren't any studies that confidently state that consuming almonds negatively affects the skin, as there are for dairy milk. Since almonds are high in estrogen, it may potentially trigger acne in those with a hormonal imbalance. Speak with your dermatologist to determine whether this would be a good alternative for your specific skin type.
The Final Takeaway
At the end of the day, whether or not you should switch to almond milk is largely subjective. "Almond milk is a great alternative for those with lactose intolerance and/or a cow’s milk allergy; it is also great for those who are looking for a plant-based alternative to dairy milk," Maeng begins. "Unsweetened almond milk is a great alternative for diabetics and individuals aiming to keep their blood sugar levels low as almond milk has a low glycemic index (GI) due to its low carbohydrate content." That said, it's up to you whether these scenarios apply to your lifestyle.
Another important note: Even if you prefer almond milk for yourself, you shouldn't replace breast milk or infant formula with the dairy alternative. "The nutrient content in almond milk and other plant-based milks are not suitable for infants as it is low in calories, protein, and many vitamins that aid in proper physical and cognitive development," Maeng reminds. "After 12 months of age, plant-based milks, such as almond milk, may be introduced to children, provided that they are fortified with calcium, iron, and vitamins B12 and D." Since fat and protein are major nutrients for toddlers, Maeng recommends speaking with a registered dietitian before deciding whether to make the switch for your little one.
If you do decide to give almond milk a try (or to stick with it if you already have), Shapiro says that an easy way to choose between the cartons is to make sure that the ingredient list is short and that you can pronounce all the ingredients.
Bellini M, Tonarelli S, Nagy AG, et al. Low FODMAP diet: evidence, doubts, and hopes. Nutrients. 2020;12(1):148. doi:10.3390/nu12010148
Martino JV, Van Limbergen J, Cahill LE. The role of carrageenan and carboxymethylcellulose in the development of intestinal inflammation. Front Pediatr. 2017;5:96. doi:10.3389/fped.2017.00096
American Academy of Dermatology Association. Can the right diet get rid of acne?