If you are a vegetarian, vegan or lactose intolerant — or even if you just like to eat and drink healthy — you might find yourself drinking cold, delicious glasses of almond milk on a fairly regular basis. For a long time, soy milk was the most popular nondairy milk substitute, but fears of its being genetically modified and interfering with hormone function have more people seeking other alternatives like almond, hemp or rice milk. As of this year, almond milk surpassed soy as the number one dairy substitute in America.
But be warned: while it may be healthy for your body, it might not be so healthy for the planet.
You are Getting an Incredible Amount of Nutrients
Almonds are arguably one of the healthiest foods on the planet, loaded with nutrients like healthy, monounsaturated fat, protein, fiber and a wealth of vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, copper, phosphorus and manganese and vitamins B6 and E. Almonds are loaded with antioxidant and in one study, participants who ate almonds with meals showed decreased signs of oxidative stress at the cellular level. Because of these properties, almonds have been associated with a decreased risk in heart disease and Alzheimer’s. As another bonus, since they are low-carb, high-protein and full of magnesium, they are great for diabetics and others who struggle with insulin resistance.
You should still be careful and read your labels when you buy almond milk however — some contain as little as 2% almonds and are mostly water and sugar. If you can find a high-quality, organic, non-sweetened version, however, it is likely you will reap the health benefits mentioned above.
You are Supporting a Water-Hungry Crop
There is a down side to almonds. Although they are native to the Middle East, they are a crop that is very concentrated into a single area: around 80% of all the world’s almonds are grown in California, which as you may know is in the middle of the worst drought in its recorded history. Because of this drought, the almond farmers are having to drill down into aquifers that are sometimes thousands of feet below the Earth’s surface to pump out water, causing subsidence in some areas that clocks in around 11 inches a year! That kind of subsidence can threaten the stability of important features like canals, bridges and even roads — and can even spur earthquakes in an area of the world already famous for its geographical instability.
You are Endangering Honey Bees
Do you like food? Then thank a honey bee! These important insects are pollinators and are essential for the growth of the fruits, vegetables and grains that we humans grow all over the world. All over the world, honey bees are in danger — partly from climate change but also from the heavy use of pesticides. The almond crop is so important in California that they bring in 1.2 million hives each year to help pollinate the trees. However, because of heavy use of pesticides throughout the state, around 25% of these hives are damaged or destroyed — bad news for the bees as well as the rest of us. New regulations about pesticide use during the almond blossom season has made life easier on the bees — but it is disturbing even so. Honey bees are not a species that anyone can afford to lose.
In short, although there are some amazing health benefits to be had from almond milk, it is not quite so healthy for the planet! While you don’t have to give it up altogether, consider cutting back a bit on your consumption. If you are wanting a plant-based dairy alternative, consider exploring hemp or rice milk, both of which can also offer health benefits while also being easier on the Earth.