Got Almond Milk?
Kathy’s Tip Of The Week
I have been a huge proponent of protein shakes throughout my career. These delicious blends make a satisfying meal substitute to kick-start weight loss. They’re also a great midday snack to help sustain energy levels throughout the afternoon because they’re full of necessary nutrients. In fact, when I’m busy and on the go, and I don’t have a lot time for food preparation, I might drink two shakes in a day. Plus, I’m constantly updating my recipes, trying out different flavor combinations.
Of course, there are a variety of protein powders to choose from: some made from whey and others from egg whites; some are plain and some flavored, like vanilla or chocolate. But the real secret to getting the biggest bang from a protein shake comes from its base. This ingredient affects the shake’s caloric, fat and nutritional content and digestibility.
Cow’s milk can used, which is a source of calcium and protein, but it also contains fat. For example, 1 cup of whole milk holds nearly 8 grams of fat and 146 calories, nearly half of which come from fat. You can opt for a lower-fat version, like 1-percent milk, but 1 cup of this has 102 calories and 2 grams of fat.
The good news is that there are plenty of milk alternatives you can use instead. For years, soy milk was a popular substitute, but 99 percent of the time I choose almond milk. I really enjoy its nutty taste and creamy consistency, but even better, I appreciate the fact that it’s packed with nutrients.
Almonds are one of those super foods. They are low in cholesterol and sodium and high in micronutrients, which are vitamins and minerals essential for good health. The nuts are good for weight maintenance, too. Not only are they often recommended as a smart snack, but a study found that people who ate an almond-enriched, low-calorie diet lost more weight and body fat than those who followed a high-carbohydrate, low-calorie diet.
Of course, the nuts by themselves are great, but almond milk really has become popular. In 2011, it surpassed soy milk in sales gains.
A lot of people drink almond milk because they like the flavor and its creamy consistency. You can buy it sweetened (usually vanilla or chocolate) or unsweetened, but be aware that the sweetened versions mean added sugar, which adds calories to what is naturally a low-calorie drink. An 8-ounce glass of unsweetened almond milk is approximately 60 calories, less than half of a glass of whole milk.
In addition to being low-cal, almond milk is low in carbohydrates. This is good news because carbs convert into sugars, which can set you off on the blood-sugar roller coaster. Because almond milk is low in carbs, that means fewer spikes in blood sugar so you won’t feel the resulting drastic drops in energy.
Also, almond milk is typically fortified with vitamin D and calcium just like cow’s milk. One cup serves up 25 percent of your daily recommended dietary allowance of vitamin D and 30 percent of calcium. Even better, it contains magnesium, which helps your body absorb the calcium. We all know calcium is critical to maintaining strong bones as we age, but it’s also necessary to contract muscles, like when exercising.
Another mineral found in almond milk is iron. This helps muscles absorb and use protein, which gives you energy and helps muscles repair after an intense workout. And remember, we lose muscle mass as we get older, so maintaining or building that muscle mass back up is very important to healthy aging.
However, almond milk by itself is not a huge source of protein—1 cup has 1 gram of protein versus 8 grams for cow’s milk and approximately 7 grams in soy milk. So if you’re switching to almond milk from either of those two, make sure you’re eating other foods high in protein, like lean meats and nuts. Or fix yourself one of my favorites, a shake with protein powder and almond milk as its base. I love how energized I feel afterward.
Other Milk Alternatives
In terms of other milk substitutes, soy is still a popular option. It has 100 calories per cup, but only 4 grams of fat, and as I noted, its protein content is comparable with cow’s milk.
There are also oat and hemp milk products. Oat milk is higher in fiber than other milks, and one Swedish study shows that it lowers total cholesterol, and more importantly, it lowers bad cholesterol (LDL).
Hemp milk contains the healthy omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Dr. Andrew Weil, Director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the College of Medicine, University of Arizona, says it’s a good option because hemp milk has 10 essential amino acids, making it a protein source. But it is not high in calcium.
Although not a “milk,” coconut water is extremely popular these days—my daughters love it. This isn’t the creamy coconut milk typically used for cooking; it’s actually is the natural water collected from immature coconuts.
What coconut water has going for it is that it’s low in calories—about 50 per glass—and high in potassium, approximately the equivalent of one banana. Potassium, along with sodium, helps keep you hydrated when sweating and exercising. Coconut water also helps replenish electrolytes, much like sports drinks, so it might be a good post-workout beverage.
Shake it Up
Whether you’re trying to lose or maintain weight or simply trying to up your nutrition, it’s just as important to look at what you’re drinking as it is to track what you’re eating. As ReShape subscribers, you get access to some of my favorite recipes, including my protein shakes. So grab your blender, choose your base, and start mixing.
Here’s to your health!