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Does packaged almond milk provide the same health benefits as whole almonds?

Commercially purchased, prepackaged almond milk does not provide nearly the same benefits as whole almonds. It's not even close!

The first ingredient in most almond milks is either water or "almond base" (the latter generally referring to some form of blenderized and filtered almond water). Exactly how much almond is contained in this "almond base" varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. However, if you check the fiber content of your almond milk, that number will give you some clue about the likely amount of almonds included: while there's about one gram of fiber in every seven almonds, many almond milks generally contain zero grams of fiber per eight ounces!

Manufacturers recognize that most consumers aren't purchasing almond milk in order to get the benefit derived from almonds. They view consumers as desiring a substitute for cow's milk that looks, tastes, and flows onto cereal like cow's milk. For this reason, they will often enrich their almond milks with the same nutrients used to enrich cow's milk: vitamins A and D. This step makes the almond milk appear more similar to cow's milk from the consumer perspective. Manufacturers will also often add calcium to show even more similarity between almond milk and cow's milk. (Three-quarters of an ounce of almonds contain approximately the same amount of calories as one cup of skim milk. However, the almonds contain only one-seventh the amount of calcium as found in the milk.)

Most commercially available almond milks don't come close to the World's Healthiest Foods' definition of whole, natural foods. They may contain outstanding individual ingredients, including natural sweeteners and organically grown almonds; they may also be completely free of synthetic additives or preservatives. But they don't provide the benefits of whole, natural foods in terms of nutrient quantity, nutrient diversity, or nutrient combinations.

An alternative to prepackaged, processed almond milk products, of course, is homemade almond milk. Here is a recipe for homemade almond milk that I created for The World's Healthiest Foods: Essential Guide for the Healthiest Way of Eating, which is featured on page 537.

1. Combine almonds, pitted dates, salt, and water in a blender and blend on high for two minutes.

2. Strain through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into a large measuring cup or bowl. Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator for up to three days.

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