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What is unhealthy about almond milk?

Almond milk has become an increasingly popular plant-based milk alternative in recent years. Though often perceived as a healthy option, almond milk does have some drawbacks and potential health concerns worth considering.

Nutritional Content of Almond Milk

Compared to cow’s milk, almond milk is quite low in nutrients. Here is a nutritional comparison of one cup of each:

Nutrient Whole Cow’s Milk Almond Milk
Calories 146 39
Fat 7.9 g 2.5 g
Protein 7.9 g 1 g
Carbs 11 g 1.5 g
Calcium 276 mg 451 mg
Vitamin D 124 IU 101 IU

As you can see, almond milk is much lower in protein and calories compared to cow’s milk. It also contains only about 30% of the calcium.

Low in Protein

One downside of almond milk is its minimal protein content. With only about 1 gram of protein per cup, it pales in comparison to the 7-8 grams of protein found in cow’s milk.

Protein is an important nutrient needed for building and repairing tissues, making enzymes and hormones, and keeping the immune system functioning properly. Not getting enough protein can lead to muscle wasting, frequent infections, and slow growth in children.

While almond milk provides a plant-based calcium source, its low protein may not make it an ideal milk replacement, especially for children.

Low in Calories and Fat

The low calorie and fat content of almond milk may be beneficial for some people looking to reduce overall caloric intake. However, for young children and athletes who need more energy, it may not be sufficient on its own.

The monounsaturated fats found in almond milk provide essential fatty acids that contribute to brain and heart health. But with only 2.5g of fat per cup, almond milk does not supply as much energy-providing fat as whole cow’s milk.

Almond milk is also significantly lower in calories, with just 39 calories per cup compared to 146 calories in whole milk. While lower calorie beverages can help with weight control, they may not keep kids full and fueled like higher calorie options.

May Contain Carrageenan

Some brands of almond milk contain an additive called carrageenan, which is derived from seaweed and used to thicken and stabilize the milk. However, carrageenan is highly controversial due to potential health risks.

Some animal studies have linked carrageenan exposure to gastrointestinal inflammation, ulcers, and glucose intolerance. There are also some indications it may promote tumor growth. Though studies in humans are ongoing, some nutrition experts advise avoiding it.

When purchasing almond milk, it is best to choose carrageenan-free brands when possible. Shake the carton to check for separation, which indicates a lack of this thickening agent.

Not a Good Source of Vitamin D

Unlike cow’s milk, almond milk is not an adequate source of vitamin D. Just one cup of cow’s milk provides 124 IU of vitamin D, nearly 25% of the daily value. Almond milk provides only 101 IU per cup.

Vitamin D is essential for promoting calcium absorption and bone health. Deficiency is common and has been linked to autoimmune disorders, cancer, heart disease, and depression.

Most almond milk brands add vitamin D to match cow’s milk, but some brands may have little or none. Check the label and opt for brands fortified with at least 25% DV to avoid deficiency.

Oxalate Content May Inhibit Calcium Absorption

Almonds naturally contain oxalates, antioxidant compounds that bind to calcium and can inhibit its absorption. The oxalate content of almond milk may be high enough to block some calcium absorption.

One study found that the oxalate in almond milk reduced calcium absorption by over 75% compared to milk. People prone to kidney stones may want to avoid drinking large amounts of almond milk since excess oxalates can contribute to stone formation.

Despite being fortified with calcium, the oxalates in almond milk could potentially prevent some of that added calcium from being absorbed optimally. More research is needed on this.

Often High in Added Sugar

When choosing almond milk, it’s important to watch for added sugars, which are used to enhance flavor and texture. While unsweetened almond milk options are available, many common brands contain 7-15 grams of added sugar per serving.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar intake to no more than 25 grams per day for women and 36 grams for men. Just one glass of sweetened almond milk may provide half of the recommended daily limit.

The added sugar in flavored almond milks provides empty calories without nutritional benefit. Stick to unsweetened or lightly sweetened varieties to limit sugar intake.

May Contain Unlisted Allergens

Almond milk is often presumed to be safe for people with dairy allergies. However, some brands actually contain milk protein or other dairy derivatives such as casein.

Undeclared milk proteins have been found in some almond milk products. Those with dairy allergies must read labels carefully to avoid potential reactions. Cross-contamination is also possible during manufacturing.

In addition, some almond milks contain trace amounts of tree nuts other than almonds, which may affect those with nut allergies. Checking for third-party certification can help identify brands safe for those with allergies.

High Environmental Impact

Though nutritionally inferior to cow’s milk in many ways, almond milk was long considered a more eco-friendly alternative because it requires significantly less water to produce.

However, the sustainability of almond milk has come under scrutiny in recent years. The high water usage of almond crops in drought-prone California has raised concerns about environmental impacts.

Compared to producing dairy milk, making almond milk uses 74% less energy but requires four to nine times more water. There are also sustainability issues around bees relied upon to pollinate almond orchards.

Almond milk does have a longer shelf life than dairy and requires less packaging. But its environmental impact may be greater than initially believed.

Not Ideal When Fortified as a Milk Replacement

Almond milk is often fortified with vitamins and minerals to better resemble dairy milk nutritionally. However, some studies suggest fortified plant milks do not deliver the same health benefits as cow’s milk.

One study in children found that vitamin D-fortified plant milks led to a significant drop in vitamin D levels compared to cow’s milk. Another saw plant milks fortified with protein did not achieve the same muscle synthesis stimulation as animal milk protein.

While fortification adds nutrients, the vitamins and minerals may not be as well absorbed and utilized from plant sources compared to animal sources found naturally in dairy milk.

Higher in Phytic Acid

Almonds contain phytic acid, an antinutrient that impairs absorption of minerals such as iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium. Cow’s milk has very little phytic acid.

Though phytic acid offers some antioxidant benefits, it also binds to minerals and carries them out of the body. The phytic acid content of almond milk, combined with its oxalates, could potentially lead to mineral deficiencies if consumed in large amounts long term.

Those seeking to reduce phytic acid intake may want to limit their almond milk consumption or choose brands that use preparation methods to reduce phytic acid content.

Often Not Recommended for Infants

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against giving plant-based milks to infants under one year old. Infant formulas and breastmilk remain the best options.

Almond milk is low in iron, protein, calories, and other nutrients essential for infants. Deficiencies during this critical developmental window can impair growth and brain development.

Parents of infants with diagnosed dairy or soy allergies should choose hypoallergenic formulas tailored for them under pediatric guidance instead of attempting homemade almond milk concoctions.


Almond milk has quickly become a popular plant-based milk alternative based on perceived health benefits. However, incorporating more almond milk into your diet does come with some potential drawbacks.

In many ways, almond milk’s nutritional profile is inferior to cow’s milk – lower in protein, fat, calories and vitamin D. Almond milk is also not as environmentally sustainable as often claimed.

Nonetheless, unsweetened and carrageenan-free almond milk can be part of a healthy diet in moderation. Those with dairy allergies may benefit from including it, while still attending to potential nutrient deficiencies and allergens. But for most, cow’s milk and other high-protein dairy products likely remain the healthier choice.