The Truth About Almonds

Published 2020

originally written 2018

With the rise of "healthy living" and clean, green alternative eating patterns and diets such as veganism and vegetarianism, it's no surprise that there's been a huge increase in dietary supplements and food alternatives. With the worldwide growth of social media platforms, trends are increasingly accessible and are mostly popular with younger generations or in big cities or dense areas; such as Los Angeles, California or London. However, behind some of these "healthy, green superfood charms" there is a darker story that could cost your bank account and, more importantly, the environment.

Almonds are mostly grown in regions with warm climates, and mild winters. The largest production point namely being California, due to its climate. Tesco and Sainsbury's own brand almonds both come from the US. There are of course other places where almonds are produced; the US coming in first place with 69% of all almond exports, with Spain in second (9.5%) place and Australia in third (5.6%). The common trend with almond production is that almond trees need a warmer climate and so are often grown in places with a lot of drought problems. In California, a state with record-breaking drought year after year, almonds use up nearly 10% of California's water supply each year. Even though almonds are one of the most water-intensive crops, farmers plant more and continue to dig up thousands of dead almond orchards each year for economic value; because almonds are so popular. To put almond production into perspective, it takes 1.1 gallons of water to produce one almond. For just a 300g pack of almonds in your local Sainsbury's that's a whopping 1500 litres of water in production. The rough equivalent to this is having a two-and-a-half-hour shower; a massive waste of water in other words.

Almonds are the second most popular nut for consumption worldwide, and almond consumption rates have risen drastically since 2010. In particular, the popularity of almond milk, closely linked to healthy living lifestyles promoting vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free or vegetarian diets. In 2016 the British population spent 62 million pounds on almond milk. When almond milk is mass produced, almonds are blended and this blend is strained. The strained almond milk is then diluted with water, and sometimes sweeteners are added. This process uses a lot of almonds for not a lot of milk, and most milks in supermarkets have only 2% of the actual almond product in them. The almond 'meal' left behind after straining is usually thrown away, with a huge waste of almonds; not to mention the waste of the water used to make those almonds, for only a few drops of almond milk. The milk, if made at home, may be slightly more environmentally friendly if you use the meal in another recipe to reduce waste, but the fact of the matter is milk is used much more in daily life than regular almonds. If you use milk in your tea, coffee or cereal, you'll most likely be using a handful of almonds in a cup of milk, whereas when eating almonds as a snack the recommended daily amount is just a handful.

The argument most almond milk drinkers use is that dairy milk is not as good for you, or that it takes more water to produce milk. It only takes 77 gallons of water per litre to produce milk, compared to 1611 gallons of water per litre for production of almond milk. The environmental footprint of almond production is massive, and because of the environment required to cultivate almond trees, this footprint is very saturated in a small area; like a giant boot crushing an ecosystem, rather than a footprint. Milk production is worldwide and widespread, so a drought would mean that water supply could be directed away from milk production, and yet milk would still be available. However, because of almond milk's growing popularity and economic value, droughts mean either a huge waste of almond trees or a redirection of valuable water to almond farming.

Healthy living trends have created the image of nuts being super healthy and green, so it's no surprise that supermarkets market and design packaging to be appealing to the healthy living market. On a Sainsbury's packet of almonds, the packet has encouraging messages of "Great for all of us". One of the reasons people switch to almond milk is because of its superiority to 'unhealthy' dairy milk, and that dairy milk actually makes bones weaker. In online articles and comments there is almost always no scientific evidence of this, and no peer review scientific papers are referenced. It is true that almonds can be high in vitamin E, but in fact it is widely stated in the medical community that dairy milk is in fact much more enriched with nutrition. A lot of almond products like almond milk have added vitamins after production, and also have a lot less protein than dairy milk.

So the next time you've run out of almond milk, buy organic dairy milk instead, or an alternative lactose free milk option. Organic dairy milk uses up to 35 percent less fossil fuels than conventional milk production, and is a more eco-friendly option than almond milk.


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