Almonds are a health-packed superfood full of protein, healthy fat, and vitamins and minerals. They are also scrumptious and on about everyone’s shopping list these days, meaning a windfall for almond farmers and a further strain on drought-stricken California, where 80% of the world’s supply comes from. Just one almond sucks up 1.1 gallons of water to reach maturity. Despite how healthful they are, they leave an enormous carbon footprint. In 2013, in the very first quarter “plant-based milk” products were up 50% according to industry watcher, White Wave. Almond milk makes up two-thirds of that market. Soy milk accounts for 30%, with rice and coconut milk inhabiting the rest. 90% of all sales are still from traditional milk. Yet, the number of Americans buying regular dairy is dropping. More and more adults are becoming lactose intolerant or switching to the plant-based variety for health reasons. Some have migrated to almond milk fearing that soy milk disrupts hormone production within the body, a still hotly debated issue. So for the environmental impact, does the health value of almond milk make sense?
Tom Philpott at Mother Jones recently set out to uncover whether or not this was the case. He took one serving of almonds, 1-ounce or about a handful, and compared it head-to-head with a 48-oz. bottle of a popular brand, Califia Farms almond milk. 28-grams or 1-ounce of almonds has about as much protein as an egg (6-grams), as much fiber as a banana (3-grams) and the same amount of healthful fats—monounsaturated and polyunsaturated as half an avocado (12-grams). In comparison, one 8-ounce serving of the almond milk has only 1-gram of protein, 5-grams of healthful fat and 1-gram of fiber. That means one handful of almonds is more nutritious than a whole bottle of trendy, top-selling almond milk. Almond milk is mostly water. Putting that on top of what it takes to produce the almonds themselves and the strain on California’s water supply is likely to worsen. This brand of almond milk does contain what it called a “vitamin/mineral blend.” But nutrients coming from natural foods are better absorbed by the body. So skip the almond milk. It’s terrible for the environment and not as healthy as the real thing.