Are you confused about which food group almond milk belongs to?
With so many different milk alternatives available, it can be difficult to know where they fit in the USDA’s food patterns.
Traditionally, the Dairy Group has been the go-to for milk and milk substitutes, but what about plant-based “milks” like almond milk?
In this article, we’ll explore the nutritional benefits of almond milk and where it fits in the USDA’s food patterns.
Whether you’re lactose intolerant or simply looking for a dairy-free alternative, read on to learn more about this popular milk substitute.
What Food Group Does Almond Milk Belong To?
According to the USDA’s food patterns, almond milk is not currently included in the Dairy Group. This is because the Dairy Group is primarily focused on providing calcium, a nutrient of public health concern in American diets.
However, from a purely food group standpoint, almond milk can be counted as a protein/dairy since it is often used as a dairy substitute. Two cups of almond milk can be considered equivalent to one protein/dairy serving.
It’s important to note that the USDA has recently loosened their terminology and added flexibility to their food patterns. The new Choose My Plate campaign recognizes calcium-fortified soymilk as part of the Dairy Group, and acknowledges other dairy-free options in a footnote to the dairy group.
Calcium-fortified juices, cereals, breads, rice milk, and almond milk are all considered non-dairy sources of calcium. Other sources of calcium include canned fish (sardines, salmon with bones), soybeans and other soy products (tofu made with calcium sulfate, soy yogurt, tempeh), some other beans, and some leafy greens (collard and turnip greens, kale, bok choy).
While almond milk may not be included in the Dairy Group according to the USDA’s current guidelines, it can still be a nutritious and delicious addition to your diet. Almond milk is low in calories and fat, and is often fortified with vitamins and minerals like calcium and vitamin D.
The Nutritional Benefits Of Almond Milk
Almond milk is a great alternative to dairy milk for people who are lactose intolerant or follow a vegan diet. It is naturally dairy-free and does not contain lactose, making it a suitable milk substitute for those with lactose intolerance. Almond milk is also rich in magnesium, which is important for muscle function, blood sugar control, blood pressure, and bone health.
In addition, almond milk is a good source of antioxidant vitamin E, which helps protect your cells from the effects of free radicals. Some studies have shown that high vitamin E intake may lower the risk of cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. Almond milk is also often fortified with calcium, which is essential for bone health and can help fight osteoporosis.
Compared to animal milk, unsweetened almond milk has 50% to 80% fewer calories and less sugar and carbohydrates. It is also considered a low glycemic index food, meaning it is less likely to cause blood sugar spikes. However, it is important to note that almond milk is not a good source of protein, with only 1 gram per cup.
The USDA’s Food Patterns And Dairy Alternatives
The USDA’s Food Patterns are designed to meet the known nutrient needs of specific age and gender groups within calorie constraints. One of the five major food groups included in the patterns is the Dairy Group, which traditionally includes fluid milks, soymilk, cheeses, yogurt, and other dairy products. However, other plant-based “milks” like almond milk and rice drinks are not currently included in the Dairy Group.
The Dairy Group is identified as a separate food group because it is the primary source of calcium, a nutrient of public health concern in American diets. In addition, dairy products are a major source of other nutrients of concern such as potassium and vitamin D, and shortfall nutrients including magnesium and vitamin A. The USDA Food Patterns include 3 cup equivalents of dairy products per day for preteens, teens, and adults. For younger children, the recommended amounts are 2 cups for 2 and 3 year olds, and 2 1/2 cups for 4 to 8 year olds.
For individuals who do not consume dairy products, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming calcium-fortified alternatives such as fortified soy milk and yogurt. These alternatives have nutritional content similar to dairy products and are included as part of the Dairy Group. Other plant-based milks like almond, rice, coconut, oat, and hemp milks may contain calcium but are not always fortified with the vitamins and minerals present in dairy.
It’s important to read labels when choosing dairy alternatives to look out for added sugars. Unsweetened or low-sugar options are preferable. Calcium-fortified juices, cereals, breads, rice milk, and almond milk are all considered non-dairy sources of calcium. Other sources of calcium include canned fish (sardines, salmon with bones), soybeans and other soy products (tofu made with calcium sulfate, soy yogurt, tempeh), some other beans, and some leafy greens (collard and turnip greens, kale, bok choy).
Where Does Almond Milk Fit In The Food Groups?
As mentioned earlier, almond milk is not currently included in the Dairy Group according to the USDA’s food patterns. This is because the Dairy Group has traditionally been focused on providing calcium, which is primarily found in milk and milk products.
However, from a purely food group standpoint, almond milk can be counted as a protein/dairy since it is often used as a substitute for dairy products. This means that if you’re tracking your protein and dairy intake, you can count two cups of almond milk as one serving of protein/dairy.
It’s important to note that the USDA has recently recognized the need for more flexibility in their food patterns. The new Choose My Plate campaign acknowledges calcium-fortified soymilk as part of the Dairy Group, and includes a footnote to the dairy group that acknowledges other dairy-free options. This means that in the future, almond milk may be included in the Dairy Group or in a separate plant-based milk group.
Regardless of its classification, almond milk can still be a nutritious addition to your diet. It is low in calories and fat, and is often fortified with vitamins and minerals like calcium and vitamin D. If you are looking for non-dairy sources of calcium, almond milk can be a good option, along with other sources like calcium-fortified juices and cereals, canned fish with bones, soy products like tofu and tempeh, and leafy greens like kale and bok choy.
Almond Milk As A Dairy-Free Alternative
Almond milk is a popular dairy-free alternative for those who are lactose intolerant or have a dairy allergy. It is made by blending almonds with water and then straining the mixture to remove any solids.
Almond milk is a good source of protein, healthy fats, and vitamins, making it a nutritious choice for those who cannot consume dairy products. It is also low in calories and fat, and can be fortified with calcium and vitamin D to provide additional nutrients.
When using almond milk as a substitute for dairy milk in recipes, it’s important to keep in mind that it may alter the taste and texture of the final product. However, many people find that almond milk works well in smoothies, baking, and as a substitute for milk in cereal or coffee.
How To Incorporate Almond Milk Into Your Diet
Almond milk is a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of ways to enhance the taste and nutritional value of your meals. Here are some ideas for incorporating almond milk into your diet:
1. Smoothies: Almond milk is a great base for smoothies. Blend it with your favorite fruits and vegetables for a delicious and nutritious breakfast or snack.
2. Baked goods: Almond milk can be used in place of cow’s milk in most baking recipes. Use it to make pancakes, waffles, muffins, and more.
3. Coffee: If you’re looking for a dairy-free alternative to creamer, try adding almond milk to your coffee. It adds a rich, nutty flavor without the added calories and fat.
4. Soups and sauces: Almond milk can be used as a base for creamy soups and sauces. Try using it in place of heavy cream in recipes like potato soup or Alfredo sauce.
5. Cereal: Pour almond milk over your favorite cereal for a nutritious and delicious breakfast.
6. Hot chocolate: Make a healthier version of hot chocolate by using almond milk instead of cow’s milk. Add cocoa powder and a natural sweetener like honey or maple syrup for a tasty treat.
7. Mashed potatoes: Use almond milk in place of cow’s milk when making mashed potatoes for a lighter, healthier side dish.