Is almond milk a healthy option?

via Niki Bezzant: Is almond milk a healthy option? – NZ Herald

This article in the NZ Herald purports to challenge almond milk as a healthy food option but does it really?

The first point it makes is not health-related at all. Ok, so almond, soy, coconut etc etc etc milks are not really milks in the strictest biologic sense…even though we tend to use them in much the same way and these not-milks are probably healthy that the lightest of lite milks that have had most of the goodness scrubbed out of them. That bastion of common sense, the EU,  has said that “…plant-based products can no longer be sold…using terms such as milk, butter and cheese…” Think about that as you spread ETA peanut no-longer-really-butter on your toast in the morning, or as you explain to your kids that the PC Police require to now ask for peanut not-butter and jelly sandwiches…

calcium.JPG“…we could be misled into believing almond milk is as good as cow’s milk, from a nutrition point of view..” Or we might not be…the only concern really raised here is the low hanging fruit of calcium content, or more correctly, the red herring of calcium content. A balanced diet will include other sources of calcium like:

1) Raw Milk
1 cup: 300 mg (30% DV)

2) Kale (cooked)
1 cup: 245 mg (24% DV)

3) Sardines (with bones)
2 ounces: 217 mg (21% DV)

4) Yogurt or Kefir
6 oz: 300 mg (30% DV)

5) Broccoli
1 ½ cup cooked: 93 mg (9% DV)

6) Watercress
1 cup: 41 mg (4% DV)

7) Cheese
1 oz: 224 mg (22% DV)

8) Bok Choy
1 cup:74 mg (7% DV)

9) Okra
1 cup: 82 mg (8% DV)

10) Almonds
1 oz: 76 mg (8% DV)

The Herald, and the Healthy Food Guide staff writing for it, might be more concerned about the low health value of commercial almond milk and promoting homemade almond milk as a simple alternative. It is so easy to make, with far higher almond content, that healthy shoppers should be avoiding the commercial tetrapaks and stampeding the nuts shelves. I usually buy my raw almonds from Bin Inn in Taupo as they often have them on special or, for bulk, check to see if Penelope @ Happy and Healthy has any deals on…

The other advantage of DIY almond (or other nut-based) milk is that you have all the leftover meal with which you can do wondrous things including bliss balls, cheesecake bases, cookies etc. I toss a cup into my muesli when I’m making a fresh batch and also use it in lieu of bran flakes for wholemeal bread.

The environmental concerns raised in the ‘article’ are also not health-related. Water (mis)management issues in California are related to far more complex matters than the growth of almonds. Again another, red herring under the guise of a health issue. If this really concerns you, then buy Aussie almonds but – not mentioned in the article – parts of Australia also experience similar water management challenges so the PC brigade may wish to check first so that they can purchase conscience-free.

The ‘article is also quite biased in that it does not discuss any of the potentially unhealthy aspects of dairy food – one might wonder who paid for this ‘article’? In a society apparently so concerned about national levels of obesity, it doesn’t hurt to cut back on dairy intake. That was a tip I was given was back in the 90s but only tried a couple of years ago at the beginning of my green journey . Dropping my dairy consumption right back was the biggest factor allowing me to lose 20kg in 3 months without any great effort. Reducing ‘whites’ (white sugar, rice, bread, etc) and reducing the number of processing stages between the raw material and the final product were just supporting acts…

I’m not entirely ‘off’ dairy. I’ll occasionally have an ice cream or make a milk-based coffee at work and am happy to use cream in recipes where there is no practical green alternative. But everything in its place. Now, if I have dairy products too often, I just feel bloated and yuk…I have a balanced diet and so am not lacking any of the good things that come with dairy…

It annoys me that the NZ Herald and Healthy Food Guide continue to punt out this one-sided propaganda under the guise of health news. The facts are that if you don’t want milk/dairy and you have a balanced diet, then give the cow a miss…

DIY Almond Coconut Milk

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As I’ve progressed along my green journey, I have started to become more discerning about my healthy alternatives.

One of the themes in Damon Gameau’s That Sugar Story/Movie (depending on whether you are reading the book or watching the movie) is that much of what is pitched at us as ‘healthy’ isn’t really. There are the obvious villains like sugars concealed in health bars and even in meats as I found with my little adventures with the pre-crumbed chicken cutlets from New World.

One learns to become quite discerning even amongst the apparently acceptable healthy alternatives. I’ve been quite happy with my change from dairy milk to almond or coconut milk (from the supermarket) but when I looked at the label recently (see above), it has just a few too many big words on the ingredients label for my liking…an alternative milk is not naturally the same colour or texture (something I know a lot about because optimum consistency for airbrush paints is that close to milk!) as real milk: that it is when poured from the carton is a marketing decision, not a natural process.

Something I like about opting for a more healthy lifestyle, apart from the obvious benefits, is that most alternatives are quite easy to prepare…yes, making your own almond milk will never attain the same level of convenience as dropping a few containers of milk into the shopping trolley and, yes, you do need to be just a little more organised in terms of ingredients and preparation…but neither the decision, its sustainment or the work are that difficult…

Locating a suitable recipe for DIY almond coconut milk – I’ve always been a sucker for coconut – Google is your friend and, after sifting through a dozen or so variations of the theme, I came back to this one from Ethical Foods. My driver for this journey is one of health more than philosophy and when I look at a recipe, I consider it more from a practical perspective. However, I did like that the author lists some pretty good reasons for having a crack at making your own alternate milk, especially the one about the packaging.

There’s not much waste here from the foil-lined cardboard containers that these products come in from the supermarket: the plastic cap gets cut out and goes into the rubbish and the container gets sliced up and goes into the landfill on the back lawn (just filling holes). Even the foil lining breaks down and any plastic liner that might survives works its way to the surface for collection and disposal (there’s not much of it). But why deal with the waste products at all if you don’t have to…?

I’m not so sure about the ‘advantage’ of DIY almond milk being “…beautifully creamy white…” because almond milk is not naturally white: look at the inside of an almond: at best, it’s an off-white…

This is so simple to make:

Place a cup of almonds and a cup of shredded coconut in the blender and run it up to the maximum speed for a couple of minutes.

Empty the ground product into a bowl and add a litre of water.

Cover the bowl and let it sit overnight.

The next day, pour the content of the bowl in some double layered cheesecloth and wring the heck out of it into a clean bowl, ideally one with a pouring lip.

Once you have wrung all the liquid from the meal, pour it into a sealable bottle and store it in the fridge for  use.

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Easy!

The jury seems to still be out on the shelf life for this ‘milk’ so just keep an eye on it…anything over a week is probably pushing it…

The only down side to DIYing your own almond milk is that it does cost more: probably about twice as much compared to the store-bought stuff in the cardboard cartons.A cup of almonds is about 200 grams (@around $4 per 100 grams at the supermarket) plus about $1.50 for the coconut. The water here is free, coming directly off the roof, through a filter system and then being filtered again in the kitchen: this last step is probably unnecessary but the filter is right there so why not use it?

Buying almonds, especially sliced almonds, in bulk will close the cost gap and I will also experiment with using less almonds: some recipes only call for 100 grams but I’m not sure how strong they would be. I am also going to try blending the almond and coconut with the water to see if that strengthens the flavour…

The finished product has both an aroma and a flavour that blend the almond and coconut together so taste-wise this is a winner…give it a go…

Edit 24 May 2016

I’m not so sure about the ‘advantage’ of DIY almond milk being “…beautifully creamy white…” because almond milk is not naturally white: look at the inside of an almond: at best, it’s an off-white…

I got this wrong because I didn’t read the instructions properly. On my second go round making my own almond coconut milk, I blended the almonds and coconut with the water before letting it sit for the day.

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Not only did I get a fraction more milk, maybe another 100 mls but what I did get had a very (cow) milk-like texture and colour.Like the commercial variety it also separates in the fridge but reconstitutes with a quick shake. My version version deposited a lot of sediment at the bottom of the bottle and needed vigorous shaking to mix in and didn’t separates into layers like this. teh flavours are also a lot stronger on this second attempt.

So the secret to good homemade almond coconut milk is to blend the solids with the water…I’ve identified a good source of less expensive almonds so will be making this every few nights from now on. Savings in the kitchen budget to offset the cost of DIYing will come drop dropping rice milk and reducing coconut water to an occasional.