Should we stop milking almonds?

Little did we know that this fabulous nut had microscopic udders that we could milk, to slurp up the goodness that is almond milk! Kidding aside, the demand for almond milk has grown substantially over the past few years–and doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. In 2014 an industry report, “Dairy and Alternative Dairy Beverages Trends,” listed almond milk as number one in its sector of growth. It’s no secret that almonds taste amazing and are a rich source of nutrients like vitamin E, magnesium, manganese and fiber, but there are a few reasons why one should reconsider consuming almond milk.

Store-bought almond milk

Almond milk purchased in a carton have lots of additives. Granted, the labels are fairly legible with a short list of ingredients, but ingredients such as “evaporated cane juice” and carrageenan are two of the reasons why sipping store-purchased almond milk on a regular basis may not be the best choice.

Evaporated cane juice is added to many “health based” foods to take the place of sugar and high fructose corn syrup. With a glycemic index of 55, it’s certainly a much better choice than its higher GI rivals, but at the end of the day, evaporated cane juice is still sugar, which should be minimized, especially for those attempting to lose weight or who have metabolic damage, cancer, and diabetes.

Carrageenan is a thickening and stabilizing agent derived from seaweed. It’s frequently used in nut milks, yogurts, and even in organic deli meats. Although it sounds fairly harmless, Joanne Tobacman, M.D., associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Illinois School of Medicine at Chicago, has discovered evidence that proves otherwise. Dr. Tobacman’s findings show that the consumption of carrageenan causes an inflammatory response, and in lab rats, regular consumption of carrageenan led to glucose intolerance, which, if unmanaged, may lead to diabetes and other complications.

The drought and almonds

There is quite a debate going on in the online world regarding almond milk and its significance in the California drought. Although California almonds require over one trillion gallons of water per year, they are not the sole reason for the drought–not even close. Alfalfa crops grown to feed the “grass fed cows” to be milked, or later butchered to create that “grass-fed” burger you just ate, use even more water than almonds do. Then there is rice, which is by far the most water-intensive crop. Does this mean we should stop consumption of these foods? No, not necessarily.

Alternative alternatives

The other tricky thing about dairy alternatives is that even these alternatives have better alternatives. Making your own nut milk is certainly an option. If you don’t have time (or the desire) you can also try my personal favorite: unsweetened flax milk. It is carrageenan and sugar free, and has an excellent Omega ratio, keeping inflammation at bay–not to mention it tastes delicious! Coconut milk is a more environmentally friendly option, but make sure you read the label and avoid ingredients mentioned above. Regardless of what you choose, any of these options is a substantially healthier choice than dairy milk–healthier for your body and the environment.

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