When my clients are starting on their new health journey and making changes toward a dairy-free lifestyle, they often start drinking milk alternatives in their coffee and smoothies. Almond milk is one of the most popular milk alternatives because of its delicious taste and smooth consistency.
Almond milk is healthier for you than cows milk because it doesn’t contain hormones which are harmful to your body and almonds are way better for the environment because they use so much less water and create less air pollution than animal farms.
But too often I get this question “Is almond milk bad for you?”
This is a question worth asking! Almond milk can be healthy but that all depends on the ingredients that are in it.
There are some ingredients in our store-bought almond milk that we should definitely steer clear of. I know it's terrifying to think that yet another of our "healthy" favorites is marinating in carcinogens on the shelves of the refrigerators at Whole Foods. BUT we must stay informed and be our own health advocates.
Unhealthy almond milk ingredient #1: Carrageenan
One of the main ingredients you want to avoid is Carrageenan. You’re probably wondering what is Carrageenan? It is an FDA-approved additive made from red seaweed that is commonly used as a thickener and stabilizer in infant formula, soy milk, coconut milk, almond milk, cream cheese, cottage cheese, and most dairy substitutes.
The scary part is that a food could be certified organic from the USDA but still contain this carcinogen. There has been an ongoing fight between the USDA and organic food companies to stop allowing the labeling of Carrageenan as organic but in 2018, the USDA decided to ignore health advice and continue to allow the labeling. This research by the Cornucopia institute unveils corporate greed and deception in our organic products.
“Carrageenan predictably causes inflammation, which can lead to ulcerations and bleeding," explains veteran carrageenan researcher Joanne Tobacman, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Illinois School of Medicine at Chicago. She says the food ingredient irritates by activating an immune response that dials up inflammation. Her previous work showed a concerning connection between carrageenan and gastrointestinal cancer in lab animals, and she's involved with ongoing research funded through the National Institutes of Health that is investigating carrageenan's effect on ulcerative colitis and other diseases like diabetes.
The concern over food-grade carrageenan isn't new. Beginning in the 1960s, researchers started linking the ingredient to gastrointestinal disease in lab animals, including ulcerative colitis, intestinal lesions, and colon cancer.
So the moral of the story is you want to drink an almond milk without carrageenan because it could potentially cause cancer.
Unhealthy almond milk ingredient #2: Other Gum Additives
Gum additives in your food could include guar gum, gellan gum, locust bean gum, xanthan gum, or carob bean gum. These are similar to Carrageenan in that they are thickeners and stabilizers to help with food product thickness and shelf life. Basically, they are the glue that holds ingredients together. These gum additives are highly processed, some are derived from bacteria and common known food allergens which can cause health problems such as digestive issues. And really we just don’t have enough information to know if these gums are safe. I don’t know about you but want to be anyone’s guinea pig.
Unhealthy almond milk ingredient #3: Pesticides
California produces over 80 percent of the world's almond supply many of them are doused with many different types of pesticides and herbicides such as the most commonly known cancer-causing Roundup. These pesticides are harmful to us because they are chemicals which can make us sick and we truly don’t have enough studies that show how bad they are for us. Also, these pesticides aren’t just killing us humans, they are also killing our honey bees
which we need for pollination of our global food supply. To avoid ingesting these super harmful pesticides, you should buy organic almonds and steer clear of any non-organic almonds.
Now that we have the facts, what is the healthiest almond milk?
The healthiest almond milk brand is going to be the one you make at home! That might not be the answer you were looking for but it’s the one you need to hear.
My solution for all of us is to make our own preservative, chemical-free almond milk at home. I have a simple almond milk recipe that you can start using to make your own almond milk at home this week. When we make our own foods, we know exactly what is in them and put the power back in our own hands.