Since time immemorial, regular cow’s milk has been a major staple in the daily human diet. However, the advent of a wide and growing variety of non-dairy milk sources (plant- and nut-based milk substitutes) has cut down its popularity to some extent (1). Almond milk is the first on this list to give regular milk a tough competition. The classic standby with a rich texture and brilliant flavor is often touted as being a healthier choice. But is almond milk really that nutritious to be used as a substitute for regular milk? Let us make a head-to-head comparison to check out the facts and find out the best answer before making a switch.
Regular Milk vs. Almond Milk – The Comparison
Regular milk or cow’s milk needs no introduction. It is a popular food for people of all ages that comes with loads of health benefits. However, recent studies have also revealed a few negative sides of regular milk.
On the other hand, almond milk is a smooth, non-dairy beverage, which combines finely ground almonds with water (pulp is strained and discarded) (2). Hence, it is a great source of nutrients and is often loved by people who are lactose intolerant or allergic to casein (milk protein).
Take a closer look at both types of milk below:
1. Nutritional Profile
From full-fat to fat-free, all types of cow’s milk pack the same strong nutrition punch. Conversely, commercially available almond milk brands mostly add starches, sweeteners, thickeners, flavorings, and preservatives to the liquid to enhance its consistency, flavor, and shelf life. Hence, the nutritional value of the beverage may vary widely.
- Regular milk is considered a whole food as it delivers 18 out of 22 essential nutrients to our body (3).
- It is rich in natural protein, with one cup (8 fl.oz.) containing at least 8 grams of it.
- Consuming even half a liter of whole cow’s milk can cater efficiently to the body’s daily calcium requirement.
- It also provides a good dose of vitamin A and D every day.
- Though the fat content of regular milk can vary widely, a cup of whole milk usually contains 4.5 gm. of saturated fats and 1.9 gm of unsaturated fats (4).
- Other nutrients present in regular milk are carbohydrates (lactose), thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, vitamin E, vitamin K, iron, selenium, niacin, etc.
- One serving of regular milk also offers 146 calories and 24 mg. of cholesterol.
Almond Milk (Unsweetened and Unflavored):
- Daily consumption of almond milk supplies the body with essential vitamins and minerals like vitamin E (5), vitamin D, zinc, fiber, manganese, calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, and selenium.
- Though almonds are rich in protein, almond milk is not. You can get only 1 gm. of protein from a cup of almond milk.
- A single serving of the milk yields only 1 gm. of carbohydrate. However, it is free from lactose.
- While commercial almond milk is often fortified with calcium, the natural liquid (homemade) is not a good source of the mineral.
- The saturated fat content of almond milk is considerably low, i.e., 3 gm. per cup.
- One serving of the beverage offers only 40 calories, which is much lower than other dairy and non-dairy milk sources.
2. Benefits Offered
Being a farm-to-table superfood, regular milk offers far-reaching health benefits to us. As almond milk is another naturally nutrient-rich food, it has also been extremely helpful for maintaining our health.
- Consumption of milk (especially full-fat dairy) helps us feel fuller and curbs appetite. This keeps body weight under control and eventually prevents obesity. (6)
- Milk provides high-quality casein and whey proteins to our body that help build and maintain lean muscles.
- Minerals like potassium and magnesium in regular cow’s milk help get healthy teeth and bones.
- The high calcium content of milk contributes to the development of bones in terms of growth and density (7).
- In children, regular milk increases bone density and improves the overall weight, reducing the risk of fractures (8).
- When fortified with vitamin D, milk accelerates the absorption of calcium in the body and facilitates the mineralization of bones.
- Milk proteins effectively balance blood sugar levels, which again helps prevent type 2 diabetes. (9)
- The healthy fats in regular milk may help raise HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol or ‘good cholesterol’ in the bloodstream. This helps in keeping severe heart diseases and stroke away. (10)
- As mentioned earlier, milk comes loaded with potassium, known to regulate blood pressure effectively and efficiently.
- In pastured and grass-fed cow’s milk, the higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid may aid in protecting our cardiac health. (11)
- Almond milk is an excellent source of the fat-soluble vitamin E, which combats free radical damage to a great extent (12).
- It protects us from several cardiovascular diseases (13).
- It also promotes our eye health and delays the aging of the skin.
- Almond milk is naturally low in sugar, and hence, it may limit the risk of certain chronic diseases. (14)
3. Side Effects
While both regular milk and almond milk have tons of health benefits, they come with some potential downsides. So before concluding which is healthier, it is important to consider all of them:
- Higher amounts of low-fat or skim milk may trigger acne in teenagers and adults by influencing insulin and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). (15)
- It may also trigger certain skin conditions like rosacea, eczema, etc., and make them worse.
- Some people (both children and adults) may be allergic to regular milk and experience issues like rashes, vomiting, gut symptoms (colic, constipation, diarrhea), bloody stool, wheezing, difficulty breathing, anaphylaxis, etc.
- Too much milk intake may make older adults more vulnerable to osteoporosis and bone fractures due to the presence of a sugar called D-galactose. (16)
- Milk sugars may also put you at risk of ovarian cancer. (17)
- Almost 65%-70% of the world’s population is intolerant to milk sugar, i.e., lactose (18), which restricts them from having regular cow’s milk.
Sometimes regular milk may come with contaminants like antibiotics, pesticides, and hormones. They may also pose certain health risks to us.
- Almond milk lacks an adequate amount of protein needed for our bodily functions, such as muscle growth, hormone production, enzyme synthesis, skin and bone structure, etc.
- It is not a good choice for infants as it interferes with iron absorption in the body and is low in protein.
- Processed almond milk often comes with lots of additives like salt, sugar, emulsifiers, gums, flavors, lecithin, etc. If not in moderation, these may cause gut problems, weight gain, dental cavities, and other chronic conditions.
An emulsifier called carrageenan is widely used in commercial almond milk for thickening and stabilizing. It is linked to harmful gastrointestinal effects. (19)
So, What Should You Consider?
According to calorie count, almond milk is far better than regular milk, while the latter wins easily in the protein category. Though the nutritional values of almond milk and regular milk seem poles apart, some similarities between the two also exist. A low-down on these similarities and differences aid a better understanding of why one is a healthier alternative to the other.
Similarities Between Regular Milk and Almond Milk
Though almond and regular milk’s source and basic components have nothing in common, the two bear some resemblance in terms of their constituents. Both regular and almond milk are free from any trans-fats and contain a comparable amount of vitamin A (10%) and vitamin D (25%). However, the other nutrients present in the two beverages are mutually exclusive.
Differences Between Regular Milk and Almond Milk
The basic and the most striking difference between the two is the fat and calorie content. When consumed in equal portions, regular milk provides 100 calories more than almond milk. Besides, regular milk is high in fat content but lags behind almond milk in terms of healthy monounsaturated fats by at least a gram per serving. It also fails in comparison to almond milk vis-à-vis the concentration of other essential vitamins and minerals. Regular milk, however, provides more carbohydrates and proteins to the body than almond milk.
Almond Milk – A Healthier Choice
Well, it is quite clear now. Regular milk seems to lag behind almond milk in terms of nutritional value. Regular consumption of almond milk supplies essential vitamins and minerals to the body, aiding its better functioning. In addition, Almond milk is rich in antioxidants that clear impurities from various systems of the body and reduce the risk of life-threatening diseases like cancer. Antioxidants in almond milk are also known to slow down the process of aging and make your skin look radiant and youthful. However, regular milk caters to only limited nutritional needs by providing calcium, protein, and vitamin A and D. Almond milk, on the other hand, provides the body with a broader spectrum of nutrients.
Almond milk is the healthiest alternative to regular milk and is easy to adapt to given its light, sweet, and nutty flavor. It resembles regular milk in terms of texture and appearance and also, works wonderfully with your morning dose of coffee and cereal.
DIY: Homemade Almond Milk Recipe
If you want to avoid commercial almond milk with additives and preservatives, go for your very own homemade version. Check out the recipe below:
- Almonds – 2 cups (280 gm.)
- Water – 4 cups (1 lt.)
Wash and clean the almonds and soak them in water overnight. The next morning, drain the water and pour the almonds into a blender. Pour 4 cups of water and blend for a couple of minutes. Once the almonds look finely ground, strain the mixture well to extract as much liquid as possible from it. Your almond milk is ready to serve! If needed, you can store it in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.
Regular cow’s milk has long been a major staple in the daily human diet. It is rich in calcium, vitamin D, and protein and comes loaded with health benefits too. But almond milk, which is a combination of finely ground almonds with water, is often touted as being a healthier choice than regular milk. According to calorie count, almond milk is far better than regular milk while the latter wins easily in the protein category. It is also a great source of nutrients and is often loved by people who are lactose intolerant or allergic to casein (milk protein). Besides, regular milk is high in fat content but lags behind almond milk in terms of healthy monounsaturated fats by at least a gram per serving. In fact, regular consumption of almond milk supplies essential vitamins and minerals to the body, aiding its functioning. In short, almond milk is much healthier than regular milk and also, it is the best alternative to regular milk.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
What is Lactose-Free Milk?
Lactose-free milk is the processed version of regular cow’s milk in which the lactose (milk sugar) is broken down. As a result, it is rich in protein, calcium, vitamins, and minerals, just like its regular version.
What are Some Other Alternatives to Regular Milk?
Apart from almond milk, other alternatives to regular milk are soy milk, coconut milk, oat milk, rice milk, cashew milk, macadamia milk, hemp milk, quinoa milk, etc.
Is Almond Milk Better than Regular Milk for Weight Loss?
As almond milk (unsweetened version) offers as much as 80% fewer calories than regular cow’s milk, it is considered highly effective in losing weight.
Is Almond Milk Bad for Kidneys?
Almond milk contains fewer amounts of protein, potassium, and phosphorus. Hence, it is good for the kidneys and safe for people on a renal diet.
How Long Can Almond Milk Stay Opened in the Refrigerator?
After opening the carton of commercially available almond milk, it can be stored in the refrigerator for a maximum of 7-10 days.
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