The 8 Best Almond Milks to Buy, According To Nutritionists
Dairy-free milk alternatives made from almonds, oats, coconut, peas, and more boomed this decade. (On the other hand, dairy milk sales dropped by 1.1 billion dollars in 2018 compared to the previous year.) Almond milk, specifically, has become an alternative milk staple. According to a report by Mintel, almond milk is the most popular (and holds the largest market share) of alternative milks, with 64 percent of the market. Because the number of American households buying almond milk is steadily increasing, we wanted to put together this handy guide—with the help of expert nutritionists—for how you can find the best almond milk.
What is almond milk and what are its benefits?
"Almond milk is a non-dairy alternative to milk," says Sammi Haber Brondo, MS, RD, CDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and author of The Essential Vegetable Cookbook. "It's usually made of some combination of almonds, water, thickening agents or stabilizers, and added vitamins and minerals."
Of course, many people choose almond milk over dairy milk for dietary restrictions, but the best almond milk will also pack a significant amount of essential vitamins.
"If you don't eat dairy, almond milk is a great alternative because it's fortified with vitamins and minerals," says Haber Brondo. "It's a good source of calcium, vitamin E, and vitamin D. Cow's milk contains calcium and is usually fortified with vitamin D, so almond milk a great non-dairy alternative by providing similar important nutrients."
How do you choose the best almond milk?
If you're looking to try almond milk, your options are endless. But what's important to keep in mind is that not almond milks are made the same.
"It's a common misconception that the healthiest almond milk should contain only almonds and water. In reality, most almond milks have different ingredients added to help with texture and to make them shelf-stable," says Haber Brondo. "In general, most almond milks will contain water, almonds, some kind of gum for texture purposes, some kind of vitamin for freshness, and additional vitamins and minerals that are fortified to boost the nutrient content of the almond milk."
Nutritionists shared the nutritional criteria they look for when selecting healthy almond milk brands:
- Unsweetened flavors. "I recommend choosing any 'unsweetened' almond milk. The unsweetened versions still have a delicious, sweet taste, but without too much added sugar," says Haber Brondo.
- Enriched nutrients. To make almond milk nutritionally comparable to the beverage you're substituting it for—dairy milk—the best almond milk brands will fortify their drinks with calcium and vitamins A, D, and E.
- Shortest ingredient list as possible. "It's best to look for an almond milk with a shorter ingredient list and fewer ingredients added to it. While it's normal and totally safe to have a few stabilizers added, more than 2 or 3 of them is, for the most part, unnecessary," says Haber Brondo.
- Carrageenan-free. Carrageenan is "a potentially inflammatory ingredient added to foods to thicken and increase the shelf life of certain foods and drinks," says Elizabeth Ann Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT, registered dietitian nutritionist and author of the Fertility Foods Cookbook. "The safety on carrageen is questionable—most research to date has only been done on animals—but still, most brands removed carrageenan from their products because of the concern," says Haber Brondo.
The 8 best almond milk brands you can buy.
The following almond milk containers are nutritionist-approved brands you should stock in your home.
"Not only is it fairly affordable (and you can usually snag it on sale), but Blue Diamond has also taken out the ingredient carrageenan," says Shaw. "Plus, like most almond milks, it's fortified with 45 percent of the daily value (DV) of calcium and 25 percent of the DV of Vitamin D."
"I love this brand and their packaging is simply stunning!" says Shaw. "It also has one of the highest amounts of protein (5 grams per cup) on the market for an almond milk. Their milked almond product also comes in a no added sugar variety."
"This almond milk is easy to find at any store. The ingredient list might be confusing at first, but it's really made with just almonds, water, added vitamins and minerals (for fortification and freshness) and a gum for texture purposes," says Haber Brondo. "Nutrient-wise, the unsweetened versions have no sugar, and it has a great amount of calcium and vitamins D and E." Silk also makes a "Less Sugar" version which only has 3 grams of added sugar, as opposed to the 7 grams of sugar in the original flavor and zero in the unsweetened version.
"Not only is this added sugar-free, but the ingredients are also straightforward," says Shaw. "Like many almond milks, Califia Farms also uses gellan and locust bean gum to help stabilize and extend the shelf life of their milk. Unless you are sensitive to these gums (i.e. you experience stomach distress or discomfort), you should be okay to consume them in moderation."
"The ingredients are easy to read and understand: 'Filtered Water, Organic Sprouted Almonds, Himalayan Salt', meaning you won't be filling up on potentially questionable fillers that may alter your GI system," says Shaw. "It is a little pricer than the mainstream brands, but pending how much you drink almond milk, may be worth the extra penny. Plus, it also has 5 grams of protein and no added sugar."
"Orgain offers an option with more protein than the classics," says Kelly Jones MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, registered dietitian and owner of Kelly Jones Nutrition. "The protein comes from peas, a popular source lately due to a smooth texture and quality source."
"This is hands down the best option for your lattes!" says Jones. "It offers the creaminess you crave, frothing well and allowing for latte art galore, with the same delicious taste as the original version. It also has an unsweetened variety, which is a rare find for lattes in cafes."
"I like that this is shelf-stable and does not have any added sugar added to it. It does have a few extra ingredients to help improve the shelf life, however, they are generally recognized as safe," says Shaw. "The only caution would be for someone allergic to locust bean gum, a natural food additive, in which case they would want to abstain from purchasing this."
The 4 worst types of almond milk you can buy.
The unhealthiest almond milks contain high levels of sugar, questionable additives like carrageenan, and are not enriched with vitamins and minerals.
"This is probably one of the only brands that still adds carrageenan to their almond milk," says Haber Brondo. "Simply because there are so many other great almond milks out there and ones without carrageenan, I wouldn't choose this one."
"Unlike other brands, [New Barn Organics] doesn't add any vitamins or minerals. This means, unlike a cup of another brand that gives you a good dose of calcium, vitamin D and vitamin E, this almond milk barely gives you any," says Haber Brondo.
"In 1 cup of this drink, there are 19, yes NINETEEN grams of added sugar," says Shaw. "While I'm certain someone picking this up is looking for a treat, you could have a candy bar which has about the same amount of added sugar to satisfy that sweet tooth too."
"Don't let the health benefits of dark chocolate fool you here! This almond milk still comes in with 17 grams of added sugars in one serving," says Shaw. "Instead, enjoy a piece of 70 percent dark chocolate and relish in the antioxidant benefits of the flavonoids in that treat rather than a sugar overload in this beverage."
5. Any variety with over 10 grams of sugar
"One big difference with dairy and almond milk is that dairy contains the natural sugar lactose, which doesn't impact blood sugar responses as much as added sugars," says Jones. "It also has protein to blunt the response. Some sweetened almond milk can have as much as 20 grams per serving, so save those options for rare occasions."