In the early 2000s, most people had never heard of almond milk and sales of the product were virtually non-existent. But as more people became aware of food allergies and intolerances and began seeking “plant-based” alternatives to traditional dairy products, sales took off.
By 2016, the market for almond milk reached $1 billion. And its popularity continues to grow. Sales are expected to surpass $2.7 billion in the next four years.
But despite surging popularity, commercial almond milk is not all it’s cracked up to be. When you consider the amount of almonds in each carton, the product is exceedingly expensive. And many brands contain questionable ingredients that could harm your health.
So, let’s have a look at some of those ingredients – and why you might want to leave most commercial brands of almond milk on the shelf.
Then, I’ll show you two easy ways to enjoy almond milk without the questionable ingredients, with greater nutritional value… and while keeping more money in your pocket!
Synthetic Nutrients: You Can’t Mimic Mother Nature
If you’ve read the back of an almond milk carton, you might have noticed a list of ingredients on the nutrition panel that aren’t “foods” – they are synthetic vitamins. The most common include Vitamin A Palmitate and Vitamin D2.
At first glance, this might appear to be a good thing. But synthetic nutrients are not in the form that your body needs for optimal absorption. Even worse, these copycat versions can cause genetic damage and promote cancer.[i][ii][iii]
- Vitamin A Palmitate (Retinol Palmitate, Retinyl Palmitate): The FDA has classified this synthetic form of vitamin A as a “known human reproductive toxicant.” Animal studies show reproductive effects and tumor formation even at very low doses. Conversely, natural food sources of vitamin A (from animal foods like liver, egg yolks, and bone marrow) are well-absorbed and tolerated even in high doses.
- Vitamin D2 (Ergocalciferol): While vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is vital and backed by reams of research, vitamin D2 is an entirely different (and potentially toxic) form that should be avoided. In fact, veterinarians no longer use vitamin D2 on animals for this reason. What’s more, studies show that taking vitamin D2 can actually reduce your vitamin D status.[iv][v][vi]
- Zinc Oxide – This is the same white substance used in mineral sunscreens. It is added to almond milk to create an “opaque” look (as only 2% of almond milk is actually almonds – a fact that prompted a lawsuit against Blue Diamond for false advertising).[vii]
And adding synthetics vitamins and “whitening” their product isn’t the only way that manufacturers deceive (and potentially harm) their customers…
The Sneaky Ingredients Manufacturers Use to “Thicken” Almond Milk
The “creamy” mouthfeel you might experience when drinking almond milk isn’t from the small amount of almonds contained in the product. Rather, it is the result of vegetable gums.
Gums are a class of substances known as hydrocolloids. These compounds absorb up to 20 times their weight in water. They help to thicken liquids and provide a creamy mouthfeel. And while this might be good for the bottom line, it may not be so good for you.
Many manufacturers use the ingredient carrageenan, derived from seaweed, to thicken their products. Carrageenan is so inflammatory and potentially toxic that the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies it as a potential human carcinogen.[viii] This additive has also been found to promote leaky gut and damage the cells that line the intestines.[ix]
Other gums, including gellan, guar and locust bean gum, are also commonly used in commercial almond milks. These ingredients can alter healthy levels of intestinal bacteria and cause changes in the mucous layer that lines the gut. They contribute to low-level inflammation that promotes changes in cells of the digestive tract, including in the colon.[x]
In addition, people with SIBO or IBS often experience digestive distress from consuming gums. If commercial almond milk doesn’t seem to “agree” with your belly – it is likely the result of gums added to the product.
But there is another way that is MUCH faster and easier…
Thick & Creamy Homemade Almond Milk in 20 Minutes
In a recent experiment with my beloved Instant Pot electronic pressure cooker, I discovered a very simple way to produce thick, creamy and highly-bioavailable almond milk – in just 20 minutes!
The process is easy. The results are superior. And if you opt for conventional almonds, the cost will be about $1.50 per quart (25% less than store bought). If you use organic almonds, the cost will be about the same as store bought. For what it’s worth, conventional almonds are just fine as it is a low-pesticide crop and the nuts are protected in the shell while on the tree.
And those are not the only benefits, because the almond milk you make using the Instant Pot will provide more nutrients, fewer anti-nutrients… and none of the unhealthy ingredients in store-bought brands.
You see, soaking almonds doesn’t just prepare the nuts for “milking.” It is also very helpful for reducing anti-nutrients, like phytic acid and lectins.
According to Weston A. Price Foundation, soaking nuts for 18 hours can eliminate most of the phytates.[xi] And that’s a good thing, considering that we absorb approximately 20 percent more zinc and 60 percent more magnesium from our food when phytic acid is absent.[xii]
But when you soak the nuts under pressure, you can achieve even better results in minutes
Pressure cooking is well known to significantly reduce anti-nutrients in everything from beans and peas to grains and seeds.[xiii] And while the pressure cooker reduces anti-nutrients, studies show it actually increases antioxidant concentration[xiv][xv]
PHOTO CREDIT: Kelley Herring
Instant Pot Almond Milk Recipe
Making the healthiest almond milk at home has never been easier. Here’s my quick and delicious recipe:
You will need:
- 1 cup raw almonds
- 1 cup spring water or filtered water (for pressure cooking)
- 4 cups spring water or filtered water
- Stevia, to taste (optional)
- Pure vanilla extract (optional)
- Equipment: Instant Pot, high-powered blender, nut milk bag, large bowl and quart-sized glass container (mason jar)
- Add the almonds and one cup water to the Instant Pot. Set the Instant Pot to manual, Pressure to HIGH and Time to one minute.
- When the time elapses, do a quick release or natural release.
- Drain and rinse the almonds well.
- Place the almonds in the blender with the four cups of water. Blend on high for two minutes.
- Add optional ingredients to taste and blend again.
- Set nut milk bag over bowl and pour almond milk through. Squeeze to remove all liquid.
- Store in glass container with lid for up to 4 days.
Do you use almond milk in your kitchen? Would you consider making your own?
Kelley’s academic background is in biology and chemistry and for the last 15+ years, she has focused on the study of nutritional biochemistry…and the proven powers of compounds in foods to heal the body.