Throughout history, traditional cow’s milk has held a prominent place as a fundamental component of the daily human diet. However, with the emergence of a diverse array of non-dairy milk sources, including plant- and nut-based substitutes, the popularity of regular cow’s milk has faced some challenges (1). Leading this charge is almond milk, an alternative celebrated for its rich texture and distinctive flavor, often hailed as a healthier choice. The question arises: Can almond milk truly stand as a nutritious substitute for regular milk? To unveil the facts and make an informed decision before considering a switch, let’s embark on a comprehensive head-to-head comparison.
Regular Milk vs. Almond Milk – The Comparison
Regular milk or cow’s milk needs no introduction. It is a popular food with many health benefits for people of all ages. However, recent studies have also revealed a few opposing sides of regular milk.
On the other hand, almond milk is a smooth, non-dairy beverage that combines finely ground almonds with water (pulp is strained and discarded) (2). Hence, it is an excellent 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
All types of cow’s milk pack the same strong nutrition punch from full-fat to fat-free. 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.
- 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 vitamins 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 in regular milk are carbohydrates (lactose), thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, 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 one gm. of protein from a cup of almond milk.
- A single serving of milk yields only one 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 mineral source.
- The saturated fat content of almond milk is considerably low, i.e., three gm. per cup.
- One serving of the beverage offers only 40 calories, 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 beneficial for maintaining our health.
- Consumption of milk (especially full-fat dairy) helps us feel fuller and curbs our 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 help get healthy teeth and bones in regular cow’s milk.
- 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 calcium absorption 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 strokes away. (10)
- As mentioned earlier, milk comes loaded with potassium, which is 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 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, which may limit the risk of certain chronic diseases. (14)
3. Side Effects
While both regular and almond milk have many health benefits, they have some potential downsides. So before concluding which is healthier, it is essential 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 worsen them.
- 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 adequate protein for 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 contains many additives like salt, sugar, emulsifiers, gums, flavors, lecithin, etc. Without 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?
Regarding calorie content, almond milk outshines regular milk, yet the latter takes a decisive lead in the protein department. Despite their seemingly disparate nutritional profiles, there are noteworthy similarities between almond milk and regular milk. A breakdown of these commonalities and differences facilitates a more nuanced understanding of why one might be considered a healthier alternative.
Similarities Between Regular Milk and Almond Milk
Despite the distinct sources and fundamental components of almond and regular milk, they share certain similarities in their nutritional makeup. Both types of milk are devoid of trans-fats and boast a comparable content of vitamin A (10%) and vitamin D (25%). However, beyond these shared attributes, the nutritional composition of the two beverages diverges significantly.
Differences Between Regular Milk and Almond Milk
The basic and the most striking difference between the two is the fat and calorie content. Regular milk provides 100 calories more than almond milk when consumed in equal portions. Besides, regular milk is high in fat content but lags behind almond milk in healthy monounsaturated fats by at least a gram per serving. It also fails compared to almond milk vis-à-vis the other essential vitamins and minerals concentration. Regular milk, however, provides more carbohydrates and proteins to the body than almond milk.
Almond Milk – A Healthier Choice
The distinction is now quite evident. Almond milk appears to outshine regular milk in terms of nutritional value. Consistent consumption of almond milk contributes essential vitamins and minerals to the body, enhancing overall functioning. Moreover, almond milk stands out for its abundant antioxidants, effectively purging impurities from various bodily systems and diminishing the risk of serious ailments, including cancer. Notably, the antioxidants in almond milk also exert an anti-aging effect, fostering radiant and youthful skin.
In contrast, regular milk addresses more confined nutritional requirements, primarily offering calcium, protein, and vitamins A and D. Almond milk, on the other hand, provides a more extensive array of nutrients, presenting the body with a broader spectrum of health benefits.
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 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. Drain the water and pour the almonds into a blender the following day. 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. Your almond milk is ready to serve! 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 highly effective in weight loss.
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 commercially available almond milk carton can be stored in the refrigerator for 7-10 days.
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