Are Nut Milks Good For You?

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Have you ever wondered if nut milks are good for you? I’ve spent a lot of time testing out different nuts and their unique properties. Today, I’m going to share what I’ve learned so that you can figure out which nut milk is right for you. Many of us are looking for alternatives to dairy. If you ask me, it’s a pretty easy move if you’ve already made the leap away from dairy for health or ethical reasons. But if you’re still struggling with lactose intolerance or some other form of dairy intolerance, this post is for you. I’ll explore some of the most common nut milks, and help you make an informed choice between the popular options.

Are Nut Milks Good For You?

One of the most popular beverages in the world is cow’s milk. It’s one of the only drinks that will grow a baby calf into a full-grown cow. But what if I told you that cow’s milk isn’t the best thing for your body? The dairy industry might not think so, but there are alternatives out there. And these alternatives are a much better (and healthier) choice when it comes to beverages. That’s because they’re nut milks!

What Are Nut Milks?

Nut milks are a form of non-dairy milk alternatives derived from nuts soaked in water and blended into a creamy beverage that you can use in your morning latte or smoothie. You can purchase many kinds of nut milk at the grocery store, but they typically contain preservatives and added sugars that may not be suitable for those with dietary restrictions. However, with a blender, a nut milk bag, nuts of your preference, and water, you can make your own nut milk at home.

Nut milk is an excellent source of fiber, containing an array of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Outside of health benefits, nut milk is also more environmentally friendlier than its dairy counterpart. Commercial nut milk production has less environmental impact than traditional cow milk production, which is a larger source of greenhouse gas emissions than any plant- or nut-based milk on the market.

Types Of Nut Milks

Whether you have dietary restrictions or are just in search of alternatives to traditional cow’s milk, there are a variety of nut-based milks you can try, such as:

  1. Almond milk: Almond milk is a dairy-free milk used as an alternative to cow’s milk and other non-dairy milks such as soy milk, cashew milk, and oat milk. For vegans and others with dietary restrictions, almond milk is a great option for everything from smoothies to cereals, as a coffee creamer, and even in ice cream. Almond milk contains two ingredients: raw almonds and freshwater. You can buy it from a store or make your own almond milk at home using a blender, cheesecloth, almonds, and water. Homemade almond milk has a nuttier, more almond-y flavor than store-bought versions.
  2. Cashew milk: Cashew milk is a dairy-free alternative milk made from soaked cashews blended with water, then strained. Cashew milk has a creamy, sweet flavor like cow’s milk and other non-dairy milks. Store-bought almond milk may contain added sugars and preservatives. However, you can control the sugar content by making cashew milk from the comfort of your own home.
  3. Macadamia milk: You can make macadamia milk by blending soaked macadamia nuts with water. Macadamia milk has a rich, smooth texture and almost fruity flavor, and serves as a creamy substitute for cow’s milk. Since macadamia trees are difficult to grow, the nuts are rarer than other types of nuts, making them more expensive. Macadamia milk is a great option for baking or as a standalone beverage.
  4. Walnut milk: Walnut milk is a non-dairy milk made by blending soaked walnuts and water together, and straining the resulting liquid for a smooth beverage. Walnuts are a source of antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and fiber.
  5. Hazelnut milk: Hazelnut milk is a non-dairy milk alternative made from soaked hazelnuts blended with fresh water. Less common than almond milk or cashew milk, hazelnut milk has a creamy consistency and pleasant hazelnut flavor that pairs well with chocolate and coffee.
  6. Coconut milk: Coconut milk is an opaque, white liquid extracted from the meat of a mature coconut, and is a staple in tropical cuisines and vegan baking. Coconut milk is made by blending shredded coconut with water, then straining through a nut milk bag. While coconut water is extracted from young, green coconuts, you can only make coconut milk from the mature flesh of a brown coconut.
  7. Pistachio milk: Pistachio milk is a tasty, green vegan milk derived from soaked and blended pistachios. Draining the mixture through a cheesecloth or nut milk bag can result in a smoother texture. You can use pistachio milk to make gelato or ice cream for a delicious, dairy-free treat.
  8. Peanut milk: Although peanuts are technically legumes, peanut milk is becoming a more popular dairy-free milk option. Peanut milk is made by soaking peanuts in water and blending the mixture until it reaches a smooth consistency. Serve peanut milk cold.

Why You Should Be Making Your Own Nut Milk

Almond milk dripping from a nut milk bag into a bowl.

When I was a kid in the seventies, a glass of ice cold milk meant only one thing: whole milk from a local cow, poured from a glass jar brought to our house by the milkman. Back then, no one had ever heard of nut milk, much less considered making it at home.

Now alternative, plant-based “milks” are everywhere, thanks to a rise in health-conscious eating. It’s not just for the lactose-intolerant, nut milks are good for anyone wishing to eat more plant-based, anti-inflammatory foods.

Why Choose A Dairy-Free Milk?

Nut milk is delicious and nutritious, which is reason enough to incorporate it into your diet. Milks made from almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, and pecans, for example, are rich in antioxidants, such as vitamin E, and provide a brain-friendly supply of mono- and poly-unsaturated fats.

There are also health benefits to cutting back on cow’s milk. First off, the type of protein in cow’s milk may trigger inflammation in some people, leading to digestive problems and more. Some adults also find that they can no longer digest the lactose in cow’s milk, a condition called lactose intolerance, which leads them to seek out alternative milks.

Whole milk specifically contains the type of saturated fats we want to limit in a brain-healthy diet. Some saturated fat in one’s diet is beneficial to help absorb key fat-soluble vitamins D, E, A, and K. But too much saturated fat has been associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. In this analysis of the major studies of saturated and trans fat intake and dementia risk, 3 out of 4 studies showed a link between consuming these types of fats and dementia risk.

A brain-healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet or its close cousin the MIND diet, provides plenty of brain-friendly fats. In fact, these heart- and brain-healthy longevity diets tally up to 40% mono- and polyunsaturated fats, mostly from nuts, fish, and olive oil. They include very limited amounts of saturated fats, however, like those found in whole milk, butter, and certain cheeses. The goal: To have less than 10% of your fat intake coming from sat fats. And, to eliminate trans fats (such as those found in fast foods) whenever possible.

Brain Health Note: Nut milk is high in brain-healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats as well as key nutrients like magnesium, copper, and vitamins E and B6, that are not found in cow’s milk.

Processed vs. Homemade Nut Milk

Processed nut milks are undeniably convenient, but the proportion of nuts to other ingredients is not ideal. In fact, you’d have to drink an entire half-gallon of almond milk to get the same nutrients as a handful of almonds. (Blue Diamond Almond Breeze Almond Milk, for example, is only 2% almonds, 98% water, flavorings, and additives.) On the other hand, my homemade almond milk, after straining, still has 10 to 20% almonds per cup.

The thickeners, stabilizers, and emulsifiers in processed nut milk are what give it a creamy, milk-like consistency. One such emulsifier, carrageenan, a seaweed extract, has been shown in animal studies to trigger inflammation in the gut. Studies in humans are mixed, with some showing an exacerbation in conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, and other studies showing no problems at all. While there isn’t a clear consensus in the scientific community about the effect of these ingredients on the gut, they are highly processed and therefore I recommend skipping them.

My homemade version of nut milk doesn’t rely on stabilizers. That’s why it’s normal to see some separation after it sits in the fridge. Just give it a good shake to easily blend it again.

Processed, store-bought nut milks are often flavored and sweetened , and can contain as much as 14 grams of added sugar per 8-ounce cup. That’s more sugar than any one person should consume in one day! Current American Heart Association guidelines recommend keeping daily sugar intake under 25 grams (6 teaspoons) for women and 36 grams (9 teaspoons) for men.

Brain Health Bottom Line: By making nut milk from scratch, you can control the amount of sugar in the milk, if any. I like to sweeten my nut milks with a whole food form of sugar, such as a pitted dates. Dates provide fiber, minerals and vitamins, and a small amount goes a long way. One medium-sized date, for example, can sweeten an entire quart of almond milk.

Nuts Are Good For The Heart, Too

Eating nuts has long been associated with a lower blood cholesterol and less heart disease. Several of the largest cohort studies, including the Adventist Study, the Iowa Women’s Health Study, and the Nurses’ Health Study have shown a consistent 30 percent to 50 percent lower risk of myocardial infarction (aka heart attack), sudden cardiac death, or cardiovascular disease associated with eating nuts several times a week. In fact, the FDA now allows some nuts and foods made with them to carry this claim: “Eating a diet that includes one ounce of nuts daily can reduce your risk of heart disease.” This probably stems from nuts’ potent antioxidant effect on blood vessels, which keeps them elastic and pliable. Healthy blood vessels now translates to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementias later.

How To Make Nut Milk

If you’ve never made nut milk at home, you’ll be surprised how easy it is. You might even be surprised at how satisfying a glass of real nut milk tastes. All you need to make nut milk at home are a few simple tools, high quality nuts, and a little bit of time to soak the nuts.

Equipment:
Colander
A bowl for soaking
A high-power blender
A nut milk bag, or a clean, thin kitchen towel or cheesecloth
Fine-mesh strainer

Almonds in a colander after being soaked are rinsed and strained.

First, Soak 1½ Cups Nuts

Tough-skinned nuts like almonds, pistachios, and hazelnuts require at least 8 hours of soaking time to become soft enough to blend into milk. A 12-hour soak is even better to yield a creamier milk. Softer nuts, such as cashews and pecans, need only a brief soak or none at all.

Cooking School Tip: The longer the nuts soak, the creamier the milk will be. And if you want to reduce soaking time, use warm water.

Then, Drain And Rinse The Nuts

After soaking, pour off the water and discard it. Rinse the nuts well in a colander. Transfer the nuts to a blender. A powerful blender, such as a Vitamix or a Magic Bullet, is ideal.

Don’t have a powerful blender? No problem. Make milk from softer nuts, such as cashews or pecans. They will blend into creamy milk with very little effort on your blender’s part. And, depending on your blender, they may break down completely, no straining required.

Next, Add Flavorings And Blend Into Nut Milk

Add 4 cups water to the nuts, along with salt, and whatever flavoring or sweetener you like (see list below). Blend on high speed: 2 to 3 minutes for cashews and pecans, 5 minutes for almonds, hazelnuts, and pistachios. You’re looking for a smooth and frothy milk-like consistency.

Plain And Simple Or Slightly Sweetened

For plain, unsweetened nut milk, add ½ teaspoon of kosher or sea salt. To sweeten, add 2 pitted Medjool dates, 1 teaspoon raw honey, or 1 teaspoon of pure maple syrup. To flavor your milk, there are hundreds of possibilities. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Vanilla Nut Milk: Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla + 1 pitted Medjool date.
  • Chocolate Nut Milk: Add 2 teaspoons of natural cocoa powder + 1 teaspoon maple syrup. Try this with hazelnuts for a nostalgic nod to the flavors of Nutella.
  • Cinnamon Nut Milk: Add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon + 1 teaspoon honey.
  • Turmeric-Spiced Milk: Add 1 teaspoon ground turmeric or 2 teaspoons freshly grated turmeric + 1 teaspoon honey.
  • Berry Nut Milk: Add 1/2 cup of berries.
  • Toasted Maple Pecan Milk: Toast pecans in the oven (350ºF for 7-10 minutes), cool, and use to make nut milk. Add 1 teaspoon pure maple syrup.

Brain Health Kitchen cooking student squeezes all the milk out of a nut milk bag to make homemade almond milk.

Finally, Strain Your Nut Milk

Most nut milks need to be strained to separate the milk from the solids left behind by the skins. (If you have a powerful blender, you can usually skip this step with pecan and cashew milk.) A nut milk bag is the easiest way to strain out the solids from the milk. You can find them online or at a kitchen store, and they’re reusable. Just drape the nut milk bag over a large bowl and then pour the milk into the bag. Let the milk drip through the bag into the bowl, and then squeeze the bag with your hands to capture every last drop.

Cooking School Tip: You can also strain nut milk over a very thin kitchen towel or piece of cheesecloth draped over a colander. Pour the nut milk over, then gather up all 4 corners to create a pouch. Squeeze out all the nut milk into the bowl.

What About The Pulp?

Leftover almond pulp can be used as an almond meal or flour for baking cookies, bars, granola, and more. Place the pulp on a baking sheet and dry in the oven on its lowest setting, usually about 6 hours. For a finer texture, pulse the dried meal in a food processor a few times. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 month. For recipes and detailed instructions for using almond pulp, check out this post from Almond Cow.

Last But Not Least: Enjoy Your Nut Milk!

Drink as is (cold is best), pour over oatmeal or cereal, or use as you would any other type of milk in cooking. Homemade nut milk is my secret ingredient in these recipes: Pumpkin Polenta, White Chicken Chili with Hatch Chiles and Black Beans, and my Vanilla Almond Milk.

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