I am not vegan and don’t have a dairy allergy or intolerance, so I’ve pretty much steered clear of almond milk since it hit shelves years ago because I didn’t really need it in my life. Recently, though, I’ve tried to cut back on dairy a bit for health reasons and finally decided to give it a try. My first visit to the rows and rows of options was no less than daunting. How could there be so many choices for one product? Trying to understand the labels was like trying to read a different language. I quickly realized I can’t be the only one. If you, too, have been confused by the labeling on almond milk cartons, know I am right there with you. Here’s some of the common terminology you’ll see and what it means:
Unsweetened vs. Sweetened
When deciding between almond milks this questions of added sugar is a good place to start. “Unsweetened” is typically clearly written on the label but there are usually a few sweetened varieties. If the label simply states “Original”, know that it’s sweetened, usually with cane sugar. If the label states “Vanilla”, it’s sweetened with cane sugar plus enhanced with vanilla flavoring. Added sweeteners can often be the second ingredient after water and before almonds in sweetened almond milk, with anywhere from 7 to 13 grams of sugar per cup, while unsweetened almond milk typically contains 0 grams, so if you’re being mindful of your sugar consumption, unsweetened is your best choice.
Gums & Other Additives
Almond milk naturally separates. The majority of brands try to counter this by adding stabilizers and emulsifiers to their product. Each has their own formula, so it’s worth taking a glance at the ingredient label to see which they’ve included. Carrageenan, which is derived from seaweed, has been linked to inflammation and gastrointestinal issues, so it’s best to avoid it (though many brands have removed it and clearly state so on the label). Gellan and locust bean gums are common additives, as well as sunflower lecithin — so far there is less comprehensive data available about them. Until there is, just know that they do indeed make up a portion of many brands of store-bought almond milk and it’s up to you to decide if consuming them is healthy for you.
Since the pulp of the almonds is removed when making almond milk in order to create a smooth product, most of the nutrients in almonds are also removed. That means while whole almonds are a good source of calcium, magnesium, and vitamin E, almond milk is not. To counter this, many brands fortify their almond milk with calcium and vitamin E, along with vitamin D and A, both are which are commonly found in cow’s milk. So if you’re looking to get these vitamins and minerals from almond milk, you’ll want to make sure the one you’re picking is fortified.
This is a much less common term you’ll see on labels but it’s beginning to pop up on a few. Cold-pressing means the almond milk is extracted without the use of high heat in order to better retain nutrients, flavor, and freshness — basically it’s a less-processed almond milk. It’s likely how you’d make almond milk at home: The nuts are soaked in water, blended with the water, then pressed and strained.
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