Dairy free milks have earned a place in the food chain as a way to combat some gastrointestinal problems but can almond milk mess up your stomach? The evidence may surprise you …
Can Almond Milk Mess Up Your Stomach?
In a word, it’s unlikely.
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Ok … that was two words!
Even though it’s dairy free it may still mess with your digestion and in some cases, this reaction can be quite extreme. Thankfully though, this is very rare. Unless you have a specific almond allergy, it’s usually the additives included in the almond milk which are causing problems.
Let’s look closer …
Carrageenan Can Set Off Stomach Cramps
Carrageenan is a natural additive used in many dairy free milks. It is derived from Irish moss which is more commonly known as red seaweed.
It is used as an emulsifier, helping to stop the separation which is common in these cow’s milk alternatives.
It also makes the product thicker and somewhat more palatable while extending the life of the product … all good so far.
Carrageenan is widely used in the food industry and is not limited to the dairy free milks which have become so popular in recent times. It is found in many meat and dairy products too.
Since the 1960’s there have been concerns over the increased usage of this additive. It has been linked to abdominal pain, bloating and damage of the digestive system <1>.
Many have campaigned for the abolition of carrageenan altogether due to the proven carcinogenic quality of degraded carrageenan <2>.
However, it is important to distinguish between the two types since the degraded version is not approved for human consumption and is not found in modern, processed foodstuffs <3>.
Vegan friendly foods and dairy alternatives often contain this additive. Some common sources are listed below:Almond milkOat creamDairy free cheeseSoy, hemp and rice milksDairy free dessertsVegan pizza (to thicken the dough)Vegan supplements (used in the capsules)Vegan sweets (replacing gelatine)
To close out this section it is worth noting an often cited study <2> by Joanne K. Tobacman in which she concludes there should be a comprehensive review of carrageenan use in processed foods.
Based on animal experiments, she believes carrageenan should be excluded entirely from our food because of a possible carcinogenic effect of the undegraded version (which is approved for use in foodstuffs).
It is further worth noting the European Union banned carrageenan from infant formula milk <4>.
Soy Lecithin May Cause Stomach Upsets
Here’s another emulsifier commonly used in almond milk and many other processed foods. It’s very good at binding different components of a product together.
For the majority of people this food additive is perfectly safe because it is used in such small concentrations. But there are a small number who will have an adverse reaction.
The side effects of too much soy lecithin include nausea, diarrhea, abdominal cramps and stomach pain.
If you’re sensitive to soy lecithin you may experience some of the side effects above even with a low dose. You should see a qualified medical professional if this is the case.
There is some emerging evidence suggesting food additives like emulsifiers may be a factor in the development of gut disease. This is partly due to observed alterations in the gut microbiota <5>.
It should also be said there is more research needed in this specific area to establish the level of risk when consuming products like soy lecithin.
Guar Gum Could Be Messing With Your Gut
Another common additive found in many commercial almond milks is a thickening agent called guar gum.
Derived from the bean of the guar plant, with the botanical name cyamopsis tetragonoloba, it has been used for centuries in South Asia.
In processed food production it is employed widely to improve the stability, thickness and texture of the product.
It is also used as a laxative so it follows that this substance could very well mess with your stomach.
Once again we discover it is not the almonds which are causing your gastrointestinal issues but the additives used to improve the product!
It is worth pointing out the quantities of guar gum used in processed food are unlikely to cause negative effects so if you’re experiencing gut problems it may be that you have a sensitivity to this substance.
A process of elimination is the way to go here. Find a product without the guar gum and see how you respond to that.
The FDA actually banned guar gum diet pills due to a number of adverse effects, mainly because the gel-like substance obstructed the esophagus and/or the small bowel <6>. In water, guar gum can swell to 20 times its size which explains these complications.
The Answer: Throw On Your Apron!
Well ok, in fact there are two answers.Make your own almond milk (delicious).Look for additive free almond milk (also pretty nice).
The first option is well worth a try, even if you only do it once! It’s super easy with a kitchen tool like the Vitamix Total Nutrition Centre … ours is very well-used.
Fresh homemade almond milk tastes absolutely divine and is so good for you! We used to make it all the time and I loved it.
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The downsides are it doesn’t last all that long and it does readily split in tea and coffee, which doesn’t make for a barista coffee unfortunately.
But it tastes out of this world on muesli