They should really call it “highly processed gum and flavorings” milk.
All Almond milk should contain two to four ingredients. Almonds and water are essential, while the addition of a little bit of salt and a natural, light sweetener creates a lovely depth of flavor. Goodmylk’s almond mylk has activated almonds, dates ancient mineral salt, and water — that’s it. But that’s the exception to the rule, not the rule itself.
The average store-bought almond milk contains between 9 and 12 ingredients, primarily because of preservatives. But preservatives (usually a highly stable form of vitamin E) count for just one additional ingredient. So… what’s everything else?
Anyone who’s made almond milk at home knows that the first step of getting a creamy, yummy end result is to soak your nuts! Not only does this “activate” the almonds, releasing enzymes, bringing out nutrients, and making the drink easier to digest; but it’s super critical to the texture of the milk.
Because big companies skip this step—opting to grind up the almonds when they’re dry—the end product is super watery. This is where thickeners come in. You’ve likely heard of carrageenan, aka the Big Bad Wolf of food additives. According to a study published by the Cornucopia Institute, food-grade carrageenan is comprised of anywhere between 5 and 25 percent degraded carrageenan, which is a carcinogen. Yes, a carcinogen—a substance which is very well known to cause the formation of certain cancers.
Now, a lot of plant-based milk companies have stripped their products of carrageenan for this reason, but you still need to be wary of food gums. Xanthan gum, locust bean gum, and guar gum are the three most popular thickening agents in mass-produced nut milks. While food companies tout these products as harmless, they’re known to cause intense gas and intestinal discomfort. Xanthan gum, specifically, has a laxative effect.
Often lumped in with thickeners, emulsifiers serve an unnatural purpose of their own: keeping your store-bought almond milk from separating. If you’ve made your own almond milk before, you know that separation is just a fact of nut milk life. Which is fine, because all you have to do is give your bottle a shake to reincorporate everything.
Because big companies want their nut milks to resemble dairy milk in texture and appearance, they use emulsifiers like lecithin gum to “stabilize” the product. The issue here is that emulsifiers have been linked to a lot of nasty side effects and diseases in the last 10 years.
Type I diabetes
Colitis-associated colorectal cancer
Harmful effects on intestinal barriers and microbiota.
We’re sure you can see why emulsifiers get a “no” from us.
The most common flavorings you’ll find in mass produced almond milks are, rather unsurprisingly, almond and vanilla. We don’t take any issue with flavor itself. What we do have a problem with is the ingredient called “natural flavors.”
“Natural flavors” are (1) ubiquitous in the shelf-stable food realm, and (2) not at all natural. Here’s the definition according to the FDA:
The essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.
While this definition alone is enough to make us furrow our brows, there are also plenty of loopholes for companies to use in terms of creating so-called “natural flavors.” According to an article by the New York Times, “for nonorganic foods, the regulations do not restrict the dozens of other ingredients like preservatives and solvents that can go into a so-called natural flavor.”
Here’s the womp womp part of the mass-produced almond milk process: oftentimes, vitamins, minerals, and protein are added back into almond milk after processing. This is because of the sanitization process that is required. During this process, the almonds get “cooked” at a high heat, killing off any germs that may have come in from the groves or the shipment. Like many of us know, killing the bad stuff also means killing the good stuff. Any existing nutrient in the product is now obliterated, meaning the makers of these nut milks now have to put back in what they took out.
We think it’s pretty safe to say that mass produced almond milks (or any mass-produced alt milk) aren’t just “not healthy”—they’re straight up bad for you. The simple fact is, you should be able to count the number of ingredients in your nut milk on one hand, and you should know what they are.