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7 Health Benefits of Almond Milk

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By Dr. Atli Arnarson

Almond milk is the most popular plant milk in the U.S.

It is rich in several healthy nutrients, but compared to whole almonds it is watered down and missing most of the fiber.

While its health effects have not been directly examined in controlled studies, some of its components have been studied extensively.

Almond milk is the most popular plant milk in the U.S.

This is a review of almond milk and its health benefits.

What Is Almond Milk?

Almond milk is made by blending almonds with water and then straining the mixture to remove the solids. It can also be made by adding water to almond butter.

It has a pleasant, nutty flavor and creamy texture that's similar to regular milk. For this reason, it is a popular choice for vegans and those who are allergic or intolerant to dairy.

You can find almond milk in most supermarkets, usually in the health food section. It is also very easy to make at home.

Commercial almond milk comes in a variety of brands and flavors. For health reasons, it is best to choose almond milk that does not contain added sugar.

Most brands are also enriched with vitamins, minerals or protein. If you do not eat dairy, you might benefit from choosing products that are enriched with calcium.

Controlled studies have linked whole almonds to a variety of health benefits, but many of them may not apply to almond milk.

This is because almond milk is strained and usually made from blanched (skinless) almonds. Most of the fiber and a large portion of its antioxidants have been removed.

Second, almond milk is watered down and a much less concentrated source of nutrients than whole almonds.

The concentration of nutrients in almond milk depends on how many almonds were used to make it, how much water was used and whether it contains any added vitamins and minerals.

For instance, around 72 almonds (86 grams) may be used to make one cup (262 grams) of homemade almond milk, whereas commercial almond milk is generally much more diluted (1).

Here are the seven main health benefits of drinking almond milk.

1. It Is Nutritious

Although almond milk is not nearly as nutritious as cow's milk, enriched products come close.

They frequently contain added vitamin D, calcium and protein, making them more similar to regular milk in nutritional content.

However, almond milk is naturally rich in several vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin E.

For comparison, the table below shows the amounts of a few nutrients, vitamins and minerals in one cup of commercial almond milk and low-fat cow's milk (2, 3).

Some of the minerals in almond milk are not absorbed as well as those found in milk. This is partly because almonds contain phytic acid, an antinutrient that reduces the absorption of iron, zinc and magnesium (4, 5, 6, 7).

Since almond milk is lacking in many nutrients, it is not suitable as a milk replacement for infants.

Bottom Line: Almond milk is naturally rich in several vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin E.

2. It Is Low in Calories

Although almonds are 50 percent fat and high in calories, commercial almond milk is a low-calorie beverage.

This means that you can drink a lot of it without having to worry about weight gain. It is also nutrient dense, providing lots of nutrients relative to its calorie content.

Producers of almond milk dilute it with water to make its fat content similar to that of low-fat milk, which is around 1 percent fat.

One cup of almond milk contains only 39 calories, which is half the amount of calories found in one cup of skim milk (2, 8).

However, not all almond milk is the same. Homemade almond milk or certain brands might contain a much higher number of calories, depending on how many almonds they contain per cup.

Additionally, some products contain added sugar, which should be avoided if you are concerned about your waistline.

Bottom Line: Factory-made almond milk may contain even fewer calories than a glass of skim milk. However, this might not apply to all brands, so make sure to check the nutrient labels.

3. Unsweetened Almond Milk Doesn't Raise Blood Sugar

A large part of the almond milk on the market is loaded with added sugar.

Sugar-free almond milk, on the other hand, is a low-carb beverage, containing only 0.6 percent carbs (1.5 grams) per cup (2).

In comparison, low-fat cow's milk contains 5 percent carbs, totaling 12 grams in one cup (3).

Almond milk is also high in fat and protein relative to its carb content. For this reason, it doesn't cause a spike in blood sugar levels, making it suitable for diabetics, as well as those who are on a low-carb diet.

However, make sure to read the ingredient lists and select products that are as pure as possible.

Bottom Line: Almond milk is a low-carb beverage, making it a perfect choice for people on a low-carb diet, as well as those who need to keep a check on their blood sugar levels.

4. It Is Dairy-Free

Almond milk contains no cow's milk or other animal products, making it a great option for vegans and those who are intolerant or allergic to milk.

Many people are intolerant to milk sugar (lactose) and unable to completely digest it. Undigested lactose passes down to the colon where it is fermented by the resident bacteria, leading to excessive gas, bloating, diarrhea and associated discomfort.

Being dairy free, almond milk contains no lactose at all, making it a suitable milk replacement for people with lactose intolerance.

Bottom Line: Almond milk is an imitation milk and doesn't contain any dairy at all, which makes it a popular milk alternative for vegans and people with lactose intolerance or milk allergies.

5. Enriched Almond Milk May Strengthen Your Bones

Dairy products are the richest dietary source of calcium. In contrast, almonds are a poor source.

To make almond milk more similar to real milk, producers often enrich it with calcium. For instance, one cup of commercial almond milk may contain up to 45–50 percent of the RDI (2, 9).

In comparison, the calcium content in one cup of cow's milk may range from 28–31 percent of the RDI (3, 10).

As a result, enriched almond milk is an excellent calcium source for people who don't consume dairy products, such as vegans or those who are intolerant to lactose or allergic to milk.

Calcium is essential for building and maintaining bones. For this reason, an adequate calcium intake reduces the risk of osteoporosis, a condition associated with weak bones and fractures (11).

Bottom Line: Almond milk is often enriched with calcium, making it an excellent source. Regular consumption of enriched almond milk may reduce the risk of osteoporosis among those who don't consume dairy products.

6. It May Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease

Observational studies show that regular consumption of nuts is linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. This is partly because they are high in vitamin E and contain healthy fats (12, 13).

Almond milk is 1 percent oil by weight, around 90 percent of which is unsaturated. The fatty acid profile of almond oil is the following (2):

Oleic acid, the main fatty acid in almond oil, has been linked to beneficial changes in blood lipids (14).

One study in healthy adults showed that eating 66 grams of almonds or almond oil every day for six weeks reduced their levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol by 6 percent and triglycerides by 14 percent, as well as increased their "good" HDL cholesterol by 6 percent (15).

These beneficial changes in the blood lipid profile are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease (16).

Although about 50 percent of the calories in almond milk come from fat, it is generally a low-fat product and probably doesn't have a significant impact on your blood lipid profile.However, it is a rich source of vitamin E, providing around half of the RDI in one cup (2).

Vitamin E is believed to be responsible for many of the health benefits of almonds. It protects lipids against oxidation, reducing the levels of oxidized LDL cholesterol, which is a risk factor for heart disease (17, 18).

Bottom Line: Almond milk is high in vitamin E and contains healthy fats. Drinking it regularly may potentially benefit your heart.

7. Enriched Almond Milk Is High in Vitamin D

Many people are low or deficient in vitamin D. This raises the risk of brittle bones, fatigue and weak muscles (19).

There are few good sources of vitamin D in the human diet. That's why a common public health strategy is to enrich certain foods with vitamin D. This especially applies to milk products.

Just like regular milk, almond milk often contains added vitamin D. For example, one cup may contain 101 IU (2.4 µg) of vitamin D, which is 25 percent of the RDI. One cup of vitamin-enriched cow's milk contains similar amounts (9).

This makes enriched almond milk a useful source of vitamin D that can prevent deficiency when consumed regularly.

Bottom Line: Almond milk is often enriched with vitamin D and consuming it regularly may prevent vitamin D deficiency.

It Is Easy to Make

Almond milk is widely available in supermarkets.

However, it is also very easy to make at home. All you need is a blender, water and a cup of almonds.

First, the skin is removed. You can do this by soaking the almonds in water for 8–12 hours or overnight. The soak softens the skin, allowing it to peel off easily when the almonds are rinsed.

Next, put the almonds in a blender with four cups of water and mix until smooth. Finally, remove the solids by straining the mixture through a cheese cloth or nut milk bag.

Here are some healthy recipes:

Bottom Line: Almond milk is one of the most popular plant milks and is available in most supermarkets. It is also easy to make at home.

How to Use Almond Milk

Just like regular milk, almond milk is incredibly versatile. Below are a few ideas of how you can use it as a milk replacement:

  • Splash it over your cereal instead of regular milk
  • Add it to your coffee or tea
  • Mix it in smoothies
  • Make a dairy-free rice pudding or ice cream
  • Use it in soups, sauces and salad dressings
  • Use it as a milk replacement in many baked foods

For those who are prone to kidney stones, almond milk should not be consumed in excessive amounts. This is because of its calcium oxalate content, which is generally higher in homemade almond milk (20).

Some people are also concerned about carrageenan, a thickener used in some commercial almond milk products. Yet, most scientists agree that the type and amount of carrageenan used in food products are safe (21, 22, 23).

Bottom Line: Almond milk is a great replacement for regular milk. However, those prone to kidney stones should avoid drinking it in high amounts.

Take Home Message

Almond milk is a highly versatile food product and great milk substitute for vegans and people who are allergic or intolerant to dairy.

Being naturally rich in several important nutrients, almond milk is an excellent addition to a healthy diet.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Authority Nutrition.

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The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

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We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.

What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

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Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

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Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.

Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.


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