I was going to do a review of the whole dairy-free milk category, until I realised this was way too vast a supermarket section! So I narrowed it down to almond milks, and I will cover the others in another post.
Another thing that I want to mention is that I am no way affiliated with any of the manufacturers mentioned (I purchased the products for this test at the supermarket, just like everyone else does!).
Unfortunately, the sad fact is that most product recommendations you see on social media or on TV are paid for. Seemingly credible sources will recommend products and get paid for it. They don’t have to disclose it. So bear that in mind if someone is encouraging you to buy one food product over another.
The first thing I’ll say is that it truly is best to make your own almond milk!
- It’s super easy
- It’s super cheap
- You know exactly what is in it (just almonds, water and a pinch of salt)
On the down side,
- Homemade almond milk doesn’t last very long in the fridge, so it’s not something you can make in bulk.
- It takes time
If you make everything from scratch, then chances are you will either have to give up work, or give up sleep!
So what about the store-bought options?
There are basically two broad groups in the category – the fridge/fresh and the shelf/UHT.
Lets go through the options one by one.
Almond breeze unsweetened
This has the lowest almond content of all the milks I looked at. It is only 2.5% almonds. So think about that for a minute. A 1 litre UHT carton will only have 25g of almonds, the rest is water. Luckily it’s also the cheapest option, but that doesn’t really represent good value! This one also had the longest ingredient list.
Check this out: filtered water, ground whole almonds, tapioca starch, mineral salt (calcium carbonate [ground limestone]), salt, stabiliser (carrageenan), emulisfier (sunflower lecithin), natural flavour.
Wow. Remember, homemade will be just water, almonds and milk.
Lets talk about the added calcium, as this is often a reason people choose an almond milk. As they rightly say on the label, calcium carbonate is ground limestone, or chalk.
How well do you think your body can absorb the calcium from limestone?
Only about 15% of the calcium will be absorbed by your body. It is really cheap to add to food, gets a great claim on the label, but is essentially useless to humans.
Carrageenan is used as a thickener and emulsifier, and is actually derived from Irish moss, so pretty healthy you assume?
The US organic certifiers believe it is harmful enough to human health that they don’t allow it in any organic products. There is evidence to suggest that it is damaging to gut health, causing inflammation, IBS symptoms and ulcers.
This almond milk tasted the most ‘watery’ of all the ones I tried.
Macro certified organic smooths & nutty almond milk
This has a shorter ingredient list (filtered water, organic almonds, organic rice syrup, organic sugar, organic sunflower oil, plant calcium, sea salt) however it was far and away the highest in sugar. It has 2.4g of sugar per 100ml, and it actually tasted super sweet.
In the ingredient list you can see they have listed both rice syrup and sugar. Rice syrup is just another form of sugar, which is why it is so sweet.
On the plus side, it is great that they are using organic almonds. Non-organic almonds will absorb a lot of the pesticides which are sprayed on them, because of their high oil content. Not only are these pesticides bad for our health, they are bad for bees too. Bees are very involved in almond production, and if we are spraying the almonds we are killing the bees.
Find out all about the impact of organic food on our kids’ brains in this article.
The macro milk has a almond content of 4%, middle of the road compared to the others.
This had the second highest level of almonds, 10%, so you are getting more almond bang for your buck. It also had the second highest sugar content, but unlike the macro one, it didn’t really taste sweet. It only has 4 ingredients (filtered water, organic activated almonds, organic rice syrup, sea salt), so if they could just reduce the sugar a bit, it wouldn’t be a bad choice.
Australia’s own unsweetened almond milk
This one gave me a good laugh. The ingredients read “filtered Australian water, organic almonds, organic sunflower oil, salt”. Obviously to call it “Australia’s own”, it needs to emphasise the fact that they are using real Australian water to make it. And as it is 97% water, this is an important claim!
But more importantly, it tasted really bad. A really odd flavour. I would not buy this one, based on taste.
ALDI Inner goodness almond milk
This one tastes good and it’s in the fridge at ALDI. It is low sugar, with an average amount of almonds. The ingredient list is a bit long: filtered water, almonds, mineral (calcium), emulsifier (322), sea salt, natural flavour, stabiliser (418).
Stabiliser 418 is gellan gum, a polysaccharide gum made from bacteria. It doesn’t have any red flags around safety and is used at really low levels. 322 is lecithin and is added to stop the milk separating.
Inside Out Almond Milk
This has a whopping 11% almonds, and is found in the fridge. It tastes amazing, really creamy.
The downside is, it really doesn’t last very long in the fridge. Similar to a homemade almond milk it will separate and go slimy in a few days. But that’s the trade-off you make for having fewer ingredients.
This only contains filtered water, activated almonds, vegetable gum (gellan), sea salt.
Personally, I love this one.
If I am out and about and I want an almond milk latte, I will go from café to café to find one that stocks MilkLab almond milk. It was designed for coffee, and it shows.
It is middle of the road for sugar and almond level, but its ingredient list is shocking:
Australian Water, Almonds (3.5%), Sugar, Sunflower Oil, Maltodextrin (From Corn), Acidity Regulators (340, 332), Vegetable Gums (418, 415, 410), Sunflower Lecithin, Sea Salt.
As it is mainly sold in cafés, it’s ingredient list doesn’t get the same level of scrutiny, and now that I see it, I will think twice about buying it again.
Things to look out for when choosing an almond milk:
- Length of ingredient list – the shorter the best
- The % almonds – the higher the better
- The % sugar – the lower the better.
- No carrageenan
- Organic is best
Don’t worry about calcium fortification, as you can (& should) get calcium from other food sources.
Before you read this article, here are a couple of key facts to consider.
* 9% of children diagnosed with autism at age 2 will lose their diagnosis by age 4
* The life expectancy of a child with autism is 36 years, compared to 72 for rest of the population
There are lots of interventions to improve symptoms of autism and help children to flourish, however, the diet should be the first. It is possible to improve your child’s functioning through diet, and it is well worth giving it a shot!
Autism doesn’t just have one cause, it has multiple root causes, therefore there isn’t necessarily only one dietary approach which can work. Your child could have gut issues, detox pathway problems or mitochondrial dysfunction.
This isn’t about trying to change your child; it’s about stopping the pain, the digestive issues, stopping the seizures and healing your child’s body in a respectful way and increasing their life expectancy. Things won’t get better without doing something about it, but they can get worse.
The following are the dietary approaches I choose from when working with a child with autism.
- Gluten free, casein free, soy free (GFCFSF)
- Specific carbohydrate diet (SCD) / Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diet
- Low oxalate diet
- Anti-candida diet
- Food sensitivity / elimination diet
- Paleo diet
- Low FODMAP diet
- Feingold / failsafe
- Low Oxalate diet
Now I’ll explain a little about how each one works, its positives and its negatives.
Gluten free casein free and soy free
This is useful because it removes substances that can cause digestive, neurological and systemic issues in some people. By removing these from the diet the gut can heal, nutrients can be absorbed and you can get some quick improvements.
This is my entry point for children with autism, it’s a great place to start. It is a reasonably straightforward diet to start with.
The reason why some people don’t get any results with it is because it can lead people down a road of eating highly processed gluten free diets. Highly processed gluten free foods can be higher in sugar and additives than products containing gluten. This is because the manufacturers are trying to replace the functionality of gluten in the recipe. That’s why it’s critical to work with a specialist nutritionist, rather than going alone on this diet. This must be approached from a perspective of whole foods, not processed foods.
SCD / GAPS diet
These diets remove disaccharides and polysaccharides. People who don’t have enough of certain enzymes in their body will react with constipation, diarrhoea, inflammation and bloating when they eat disaccharides and polysaccharides. Disaccharides are sugars such as sucrose (table sugar) and lactose (milk sugar). Polysaccharides are found in starches, like grains or potato. By temporarily removing them, the gut can heal and the bacteria in the gut are able to rebalance. This diet is useful for autism, and lots of severe gut issues. SCD is a bit easier to do, but it doesn’t include as many gut healing foods as GAPS does, which is why I prefer to use GAPS. There are numerous ways that GAPS or SCD can be done poorly, which is why I highly recommend you work with someone with specialist training in this area. For instance, some people do GAPS too low in carbohydrate. This can cause issues, particularly for people with thyroid or mitochondrial issues. Some people react strongly to some of the healing foods such as fermented foods, and never manage to progress and reap the benefits.
Paleo is one of my favourite eating styles. It is very focussed on whole foods and it removes grains, dairy and soy. It is an approach which you can stick to long term, if it suits you. A common misinterpretation of the Paleo diet is that it is meat heavy. This isn’t actually true. The basis of all Paleo meals should be vegetables, with a bit of meat, rather than a slab of steak with a side of veggies.
The ketogenic diet is quite trendy at the moment, particularly for weight loss. It is actually a therapeutic diet which has been used for a hundred years for epilepsy. It fell out of favour when anti-epileptic drugs were developed, and is only now recommended for people when epilepsy doesn’t respond to drugs. But shouldn’t dietary intervention come first, then drugs? It is a low carb, high fat diet which forces the body to use ketones for energy, not glucose. It is restrictive, but it works. It protects the brain and reduces oxidative stress, which is why it is helpful for autism. Again, you can do keto in a really unhealthy way. Think of a keto meal as a massive bowl of leafy greens, with olive oil and some meat. Not a slab of cheese.
A low FODMAP diet can be used if a child has really bad gut symptoms and we want to get immediate relief of the pain. It removes the foods that feed bacteria, so it reduces gas and bloating. However I see over and over people who have been told to do a low FODMAP diet years ago and are still on it. This is a disaster for gut health. The foods that feed bacteria feed the good bacteria and the bad bacteria. By permanently removing them you can starve the good guys, and gut health will go downhill over time. Never do a low FODMAP diet without supervision, and never stay on it long term (more than 6 weeks).
This removes sugar, which feeds candida and restores the body’s good gut bacteria. You can look for clues that your child has candida issues . This diet can get complicated with restrictions and food combining, so I use it in a simplified way for clients, and focus on reducing sugar.
Feingold / Failsafe diets
These remove food chemicals (naturally occurring and additives) called phenols from the diet. Lots of children with autism have issues with their biochemical pathways so they can’t detoxify these substances normally. Removing the phenols can give instant results, however it is a really restrictive, plain diet to stick with, and there is no end game. I frequently see people who have been on this diet for years, and still can’t tolerate any thing. I then guide them off the diet and on to something like GAPS which helps improve the range of foods they are able to eat. I have tried most diets myself, so I am familiar with their unique challenges, and this one is the hardest in my opinion.
Low oxalate diet
This isn’t one that you commonly hear about. I think about a low oxalate diet in people who have pain all over their body, and oddly enough have cloudy urine. I also think about it when someone proudly tells me how many green leafy veggies they or their kids eat. Lots of green leafy veggies are high in oxalates. A low oxalate diet can be a really unhealthy diet as it removes nutritious foods, so the emphasis always needs to be on temporary removal of oxalates while you heal the gut, then reintroduce them.
As you can see there is no one size fits all. A personalised diet needs to be chosen based on all the symptoms someone has.
Supplements are great, but they come after diet. You can’t out supplement a bad, or even just the wrong diet.
And it is really important to remember that healing diets are therapeutic. They aren’t intended to be used forever. Get proper guidance from me on which diet is best for you by making an appointment here.
Before the demonization of cholesterol in the 1980s, it was very common to have an egg for breakfast. Then all of a sudden, eggs were going to kill us because they contain cholesterol, fat was bad, and breakfast cereal was good. But do you ever notice that when you have an egg for breakfast you are full until lunchtime and if you have breakfast cereal you are starving by 9am?
Eggs have so much going for them nutritionally, that they should be encouraged for breakfast, for adults and children.
Of course, diets are not one size fit all. Lots of children have egg allergies or intolerances, so need to avoid them.
Adults with autoimmune diseases also need to tread carefully with eggs.
So why are eggs such a great food?
Eggs contain fats called ‘phospholipids’. These help to make the myelin sheath, the insulation that covers all our nerves. Having good insulation is essential for signals to be transmitted easily along nerves.
Eating enough phospholipids will help your child’s mood, school performance and focus.
There are 2 types of phospholipids of interest, called phosphatidyl choline and phosphatidyl serine.
Rat studies have shown that pregnant rats that are fed phophatidyl choline give birth to baby rats with better brain function and better memory. The reason it is so important is because our bodies use it to make acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter in our brain which helps with memory.
Choline can also have big impacts on children with speech delay, also because of it’s impact on acteylcholine
This is also really important for brain health, especially learning, concentration and memory.
It is also able to decrease cortisol, the stress hormone, making it really useful for people who are chronically stressed (all kids with behaviour issues will be under chronic stress).
One of the best sources of these phospholipids is eggs. Another great source is organ meats like liver, kidney or brain!
A vegetarian or vegan child (either through fussiness or parental wish) will struggle to get enough phospholipids without taking a supplement.
Egg whites are a great source of complete protein. Having an egg at breakfast will provide protein which is necessary to build healthy neurotransmitters in the brain.
It will also help to stabilise your child’s blood sugar so they won’t by tired and irritable by the time they get to class.
Having an egg at breakfast will mean your child won’t spend the first hour at school wondering when they are going to be able to eat something because they are so hungry!
Sulphur and selenium
Eggs contain sulphur and selenium. These are both great nutrients for detoxifying.
Lots of children have been inadvertently exposed to heavy metals like lead and mercury (find out if this is a problem for them with a hair test), and eating eggs is one way to start to remove these toxins.
These are needed to have a healthy stress response, and to produce energy.
Children that have behaviour issues are under constant stress, at home and at school: “hurry up”, “sit down”, “don’t do that”.
Having a good store of B vitamins will help them deal with that.
Being under stress also depletes B vitamins so it is easy to get into a vicious cycle
The “slip, slop slap” campaign has been so successful that a lot of children are now deficient in vitamin D.
Vitamin D is needed to make serotonin (the happy neurotransmitter).
Children with ADHD have vitamin D levels which are a third lower than children without ADHD.
Eggs are one of the few commonly consumed food sources of vitamin D. Another reason to eat them!
How to choose eggs
When shopping for eggs, you want to choose free range organic eggs. What a chicken eats will directly affect the nutritional content of their eggs. If they are eating a diet just of grains, they will not have as rich a nutrient content as if they are eating grass, bugs and worms.
Boiling or scrambling the eggs is better than frying them. Frying eggs in a high heat will destroy more nutrients and oxidise the fats more.
Children (or adults!) with mood or behaviour issues need to get enough protein in their diet. Ideally, there should be some protein at every meal or snack. That doesn’t mean eating meat 5 times a day, it’s just a matter of being mindful to include some high protein foods such as nuts, legumes or eggs.
So why is this protein so important?
There are a few reasons why this protein is useful.
Eating protein with a carbohydrate will lower the glycaemic load of the carbohydrates. Fluctuating blood sugar due to eating high glycaemic index foods will affect a child’s mood, behaviour and IQ. Sugars and starches are quickly broken down to glucose during digestions and absorbed into the blood stream, giving a sudden burst of energy. The higher the glycaemic load of the meal, the greater the fluctuation in blood sugar.
Neurotransmitters. These are the chemical messengers in the brain and have a huge influence on things like mood and behaviour. To make neurotransmitters, you need amino acids. Amino acids come from protein. So if your child isn’t eating enough protein, they won’t be able to make enough neurotransmitters.
Serotonin is one of these really important neurotransmitters. It has a big impact on mood and sleep, and it is made from the amino acid tryptophan.
Eating lots of protein rich foods such as these will help you make enough serotonin:
If you child already is low in serotonin, either because they aren’t eating enough protein, or because they are always stressed, they may need a supplement.
A perpetually stressed child, or one with a chronic infection won’t make serotonin efficiently, so finding ways to help the child relax and treating infections are important too. A great way to see if your child isn’t making serotonin well is to do an Organic Acids Test (OAT).
A child with a serotonin deficiency will tend towards:
- depression (especially in winter)
- social anxiety
- obsessive compulsive disorder
- carbohydrate cravings
Another important neurotransmitter is dopamine. If a child doesn’t have enough dopamine they will have addictive tendencies, restless legs, be unmotivated, have dull dreams and be forgetful.
To boost dopamine, and therefore boost focus and motivation, kids need to eat foods high in the amino acid tyrosine.
This can be found in these protein rich foods:
Protein fills you up more than carbohydrates do, which means eating protein helps you manage your weight. This means your child won’t reach for snacks as often, which is a great thing to help avoid artificial additive and junk foods.
Carrots are great for eliminating toxins from the digestive tract, and ginger is anti-fungal. The oil that is used is coconut oil, which also has anti-fungal properties.
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 brown onion, finely chopped
5cm piece ginger, peeled, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1kg carrots, peeled, chopped
1.5 litre homemade chicken stock
Heat the coconut oil in a large saucepan, then add the onion, ginger and garlic.
Cook for 10 minutes on a medium heat, until the onions are soft.
Add the carrots and the chicken stock.
Cover with a lid and simmer for 40 minutes until the carrots are soft.
Use a stab blender to puree until smooth.
You may have heard of yeast overgrowth by it’s other name, Candida (or Candida albicans). Candida is a type of fungus, a one-celled organism. Everyone has some Candida in their body, and quite often it lives in balance with the bacteria in your body.
Sometimes however, it can go a little crazy, and start to dominate your body’s ecosystem.
This can happen for a few different reasons:
- Too many course of antibiotics. Antibiotics disrupt the eco-system in your gut, killing off lots of bacteria, good and bad. In doing so, it allows candida to take over, it doesn’t have to compete with bacteria any more.
- Too much sugar and refined carbohydrates in the body. Candida loves sugar, and worse than that, it makes its host (the child) crave sugar. So a child with candida will get into a vicious cycle, of craving sugar, which feeds the Candida, which makes the sugar cravings even worse!
- Heavy metal toxicity. If your child has been affected by lead, mercury or another heavy metal, this will make them more susceptible to Candida overgrowth. And until you can get rid of the heavy metal, the candida will be hard to treat. Doing a hair tissue mineral analysis (HTMA) will show if your child has a heavy metal issue, which you can then treat using food and nutrients.
So why is it so bad to have a candida overgrowth?
If you have ever had a candida infection, you will know the physical discomfort this can bring. But the problems run deeper than this. Just like the problem bacteria Clostridia, Candida will form toxins (metabolites) in the body which can affect the brain and cause behavioural problems. The toxins can leak out of the gut and into the bloodstream, which means they can get to the brain.
Behavioural issues you can expect in a child with a Candida overgrowth include:
- Mood swings
- Memory problems
- Poor attention span
- Inappropriate behaviour
- Sleep disturbances
Other symptoms of Candida overgrowth:
- Cravings for sweet foods or refined carbohydrates
- Weak immune systems
- Vaginal candida infections
- Fungal toenail infections
- Bad breath
- Sinus issues
- White furry tongue
How do I get rid of the Candida overgrowth?
Certain types of probiotics, if taken in sufficient quantities will help to dampen down a candida overgrowth. That is why it is a good idea to take probiotics at the same time as taking the antibiotic, to make sure Candida doesn’t over grow.
Remove sugar from the diet. All forms of sugar need to be removed for a while, this even includes fruit. The only fruit that can stay is lemons and limes. This is an essential step to take, as if you keep feeding the Candida, you will never get the upper hand.
Add in antifungal foods and spices. Antifungal foods include coconut, garlic, oregano and ginger. Cook with coconut oil, add garlic in the final stages of cooking so it is still quite raw, add heaps of oregano to bolognaise and make a tea from fresh ginger and lemon
Drink Kefir. Kefir is a fermented milk drink, and it helps your gut ecosystem get back into balance. It tastes a bit like drinking yoghurt. The sugar in the milk has been digested by the good bacteria and yeast in the kefir.
Add sauerkraut into your diet. If you have never had sauerkraut before, start with a very small amount, or even start with sauerkraut juice. Similar to the kefir, sauerkraut will help to rebalance the ecosystem in your gut, so Candida can’t dominate. Sauerkraut is really great for digestion, as raw vegetables contain enzymes which will help remove toxins from the body and strengthen your immune system. Strengthening your immune system will help your body defend itself again Candida overgrowth.
When I work with children with mood or behaviour issues, I run both a HTMA and a combined food allergy + Candida test. That way I can tell from the very start if heavy metals, nutrient deficiencies, food allergies or candida is the issue. This makes treatment much faster!
I am always really impressed by my clients, but especially if they push their kids outside their comfort zone with something completely different. The results can be very impressive! One example is Turmeric latte. Turmeric is anti-inflammatory and really healing to the gut, so an occasional Turmeric latte, to replace something like a hot chocolate will really boost your child’s health. This one is made from coconut milk, removing the inflammatory effects of cow’s milk.
1 cup coconut milk
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
¼ teaspoon cinnamon powder
¼ teaspoon black pepper powder
1 tablespoon honey or as per taste
- Brink coconut milk to the boil in a sauce pan. Add turmeric powder followed by cinnamon powder and black pepper powder.
- Heat the milk for a few minutes on a low heat.
- Lastly add honey and give a quick stir.
- Serve warm.
Our gut health impacts all aspects of our health, including our mental health. I have explained how this works in my article on the gut brain connection.
Overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut will produce harmful compounds. For example the bacterial family Clostridia produce a harmful compound called HPHPA. This compound changes the neurotransmitter balance in the body, which leads to hyperactivity and aggression.
Why would your child have high levels of this bad bacteria?
Lots of kids have too much Clostridia, and the main reason for this is having had too many courses of antibiotics. The over-prescription of antibiotics, especially for recurrent ear infections leads to overgrowth of harmful bacteria, as well as lots of other issues including childhood obesity.
What does HPHPA do?
This harmful compound enters the blood stream via the gut. Here, it affects the enzymes responsible for maintaining the balance between two neurotransmitters called dopamine and norepinephrine. If these two neurotransmitters are out of balance, emotional and mental wellbeing is affected.
Dopamine controls things like satisfaction and pleasure. It also helps the communication between brain and muscles (which is why people with Parkinson’s disease have a tremor, because they don’t have enough dopamine).
Norepinephrine’s job is to regulate learning, emotions, attentiveness and sleep.
Normal levels of dopamine are good, but too high levels are not good. Too much dopamine causes over stimulation, agitation and anxiety. It also causes oxidation in the brain, which then uses up the body’s store of antioxidants. It will make the child burn through the body’s stores of zinc, magnesium and B vitamins which are essential to brain health.
How do I know if my child has high HPHPA?
There is a urine test called an organic acid test (OAT) which looks for HPHPA levels. It is estimated that between 10 and 20% of children with ADHD will have high levels of HPHPA. Whilst these numbers aren’t huge, it is still a good idea to test, as treating this root cause will improve your child’s mood and behaviour in a matter of months.
Are there any clues before I spend money on testing?
Yes. You can have a guess at whether this is an issue for your child.
If you tried medication and your child got worse, then this might be because their dopamine was already too high, and the medication pushed it higher.
If your child has hyperactivity, agitation and aggression, they may already have high dopamine because of the HPHPA.
If your child has gut issues such as abdominal pain, bloating, constipation or diarrhoea. That may mean they have an overgrowth of Clostridia.
Treatment of the clostridia would involve improving gut health and taking a high dose probiotic, which is best to do in conjunction with a practitioner like me, who specialises in this area. Click on this link to make a Skype appointment with me.
This is a delicious, mildly sweet soup to enjoy this winter. Enjoy as a weekend lunch, or as part of a main meal.
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon chilli powder
2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1 teaspoon turmeric
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup dried red lentils
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup coconut cream
- Fry the onion with the olive oil, then add the garlic.
- Add the spices to the pan, and cook until the onion is translucent.
- Pour the chicken stock and lentils into the slow cooker.
- Add the onion, garlic and spices to the slow cooker.
- Add the carrots, celery and sweet potato to the slow cooker.
- Cover and cook on HIGH for 4 hours.
- Use a stick blender to process the soup until smooth