Friends, you know me. You know that I try my best to write all of my Pocket RD posts in an unbiased, non-judgmental manner. I stick to cruising down the middle of the road, rather than detouring to polarizing ends of the spectrum. But every once in awhile, even this mild-mannered dietitian can get pretty fired up. Unfortunately, it’s my fiancé who gets the brunt of my rants every time I read or hear some ridiculous and unfounded nutrition claim. But this time, I’ve made the decision to go public.
This new Pocket RD series is not meant to be a nutrition shame-fest; I’m not about to point at you and laugh in your face as I tell you there isn’t clinical evidence to support your claim. At the end of the day, I want each and every person to make his OWN educated nutrition decisions based on individual needs and wants. But the key word here is “educated”. Trust me, I know the Internet is a black hole of endless, conflicting nutrition information and it’s REALLY easy to get sucked in. I get it. But look up for a second…do you see my hand? Yes, there it is, I’m here to pull you to safety. So let’s jump down the rabbit hole and see what’s in there…
I recently saw a patient in the hospital who was having difficulty consuming enough protein to meet her needs. She was not able to tolerate meats, and was finding it hard to eat large enough portions. The nurse and I were both in the room, trying to figure out ways we could optimize her nutrition while hospitalized. She was interested in receiving more information on protein content in foods, as well as ways to meet her needs. In response to this request, the nurse asked, “Have you tried almond milk?” I resisted the strong urge to throw my clipboard at her and instead asked the patient if she had any allergies or intolerances to dairy milk. When she said “no”, I calmly explained how dairy milk has more protein than almond milk – 8 grams per glass compared to 1 gram per glass.
Here’s the teaching moment: almond milk is super trendy right now, and its marketing team has done a pretty good job at making everyone think it’s “better” than dairy milk. But in nutrition, that’s not always a valid statement. The key is always to find foods that are “better” for YOU. It comes down to your individual nutrition needs and your preferences. Nutrition is NOT a one-size-fits-all. So here is the quick and dirty comparison of dairy vs. almond milk:
Dairy per glass:
- 90-150 calories
- 8 grams protein
- 300mg calcium (30% of the daily value)
- 12 grams natural sugar (lactose)
- Choose skim or low-fat milk to reduce saturated fat
Almond per glass:
- 60 calories
- 1 gram protein
- 450mg calcium (45% of the daily value – fortified vs. natural)
- 0 grams sugar (if unsweetened)
- Can be used if you have a milk allergy
Those are the facts, now YOU make the educated choice. If you’re an adult and feel you’re getting adequate protein and want to reduce overall calories, then almond milk is fine. But if you’re a baby or toddler (first of all, congratulations on your stellar reading ability at such a young age), almond milk doesn’t have enough calories and protein for growth and development. Similarly, if you’re the adult I talked to in the hospital, eating a handful of almonds would give you more protein (6 grams) than a glass of almond milk. You can have a healthy, balanced diet with dairy milk AND with almond milk.
The bottom line is you have to go beyond the marketing and beyond the Internet hype. And you’re in luck, because that’s what I’m here for! Don’t you worry, non-nutrition professionals are always saying the darndest things, so I have plenty more material for you!