Almonds are Paleo, so almond milk should be Paleo, too, right? Well, mostly…
First, for what purpose would a Paleo person use almond milk? You could pour it over nuts and seeds and dried fruit and make a cereal type snack. Or you could drink it. One cup of the unsweetened commercial variety contains about 30 calories, 1 gram of protein, 1 gram of carbs, and 2.5 grams of fat. So it’s basically like drinking water. Except it’s not water because there are nuts and all kinds of other weird ingredients in it.
If you were to make your own almond milk, you would simply soak some almonds and blend them up with water and maybe some cinnamon and a little honey. Then you’d strain the nut shards out and BOOM – you have almond milk. Four ingredients.
Now, let’s look at the ingredients in store bought almond milk.
This one is Silk Pure Almond Unsweetened Almond Milk.
Ingredients: All Natural Almondmilk (Filtered Water, Almonds), Calcium Carbonate, Sea Salt, Locust Bean Gum, Sunflower Lecithin, Gellan Gum, Natural Flavor, d-alpha-Tocopherol (Natural Vitamin E), Zinc Gluconate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Riboflavin (B2), Vitamin B12, Vitamin D2.
(The Original version has evaporated cane juice added to it.)
Here’s Blue Diamond’s take on unsweetened almond milk:
Ingredients: almondmilk (filtered water, almonds), calcium carbonate, tapioca starch, sea salt, potassium citrate, carrageenan, sunflower lecithin, natural flavor, vitamin a palmitate, vitamin d2 and d-alpha-tocopherol (natural vitamin E).
I don’t know why they add Vitamin D2: it’s not the D3 that our bodies actually assimilate, so don’t be fooled by that. As for the other ingredients – locust bean gum, sunflower lecithin, carrageenan, gellan gum (never even seen that until just now), natural flavor (to make it taste more like almonds?), calcium carbonate (chalk), tapioca starch, and all the rest, what are those?
Locust bean gum (gum extracted from the carob tree), carrageenan (a gel extracted from seaweed), gellan gum (a gel produced by bacteria), and tapioca starch (same as tapioca flour, made from the starchy root cassava) are thickeners. If you ever make your own almond milk, you’ll notice that it’s very thin and watery unless you use a higher almond:water ratio. But that would be very costly for the manufacturer to do. So they use fewer almonds and more weird ingredients to thicken it up so you don’t feel like you’re drinking just water. Then they use the natural flavor to, yes, make it taste more like the almonds they omitted to save money.
Calcium carbonate is used as an anti-caking agent in a lot of products, but they also probably put it in almond milk to ease the minds of the lactose intolerant who sub out almond milk for calcium-rich cow’s milk.
Sunflower lecithin – or any lecithin – is an emulsifier. It keeps the fat from separating from everything else.
Everything else is a vitamin or a mineral because it apparently is a law that synthetic vitamins and minerals must populate pre-packaged, processed foods.
So is commercial almond milk Paleo? In a perfect world, no, and especially not the sweetened kind. Even the unsweetened versions are weird and full of synthetic, chemically processed ingredients. To be honest, even the almonds are now often chemically processed, which is one reason I’m not a huge fan of them. Since 2007, all almonds must be pasteurized either by steaming, roasting, or applying propylene oxide (a probable human carcinogen) to them. That means many of the nutrients are lost and they’re no longer “raw”. Anyway, besides that, calcium carbonate is the main ingredient in Tums and chalk, so on principle I have a problem with it being the second ingredient in a lot of people’s staple beverage.
The verdict is….
In reality, when people ask me if they can drink store bought almond milk on a Paleo diet, I say yes because it falls somewhere between “hell no” and “heck yes” on the Paleo spectrum. I say try to make your own with soaked almonds, so you can at least expel some of the anti-nutrients from them. Homemade almond milk with all Paleo ingredients is perfectly fine.
Just try not to make store bought almond milk an everyday thing. Everything in moderation, right?