Even though there are a countless number of dairy-free milk options available, oat varieties just keep on getting buzzier and buzzier—so much so that one cult-favorite product barely stays on store shelves long enough for health-conscious shoppers to add it into their shopping carts. While the mix definitely has its perks—like reducing “bad” cholesterol and having a super-similar consistency to cow’s milk—it can also come with some negatives, experts warn.
Celebrity nutritionist Kelly LeVeque recently shattered the hearts of oat milk lovers everywhere by laying down some of its less-than-stellar qualities. In an Instagram post, she shared she’s not even a little bit on board with the trend: “It’s definitely sustainable, but, in my opinion, a potentially gluten-contaminated, pesticide-covered grain milk with very little nutrition is not a very good option when you have milks like coconut milk that offers MCT for brain health, almond milk that offers potassium for muscle health, and hemp milk that offers a little bit of protein if you’re plant-based,” she writes. “Worse, the second ingredient in most oat milks is rapeseed oil—aka canola oil—which is highly inflammatory.”
So has this ridiculously tasty alt-dairy milk been covering up some shady business all along?
Let’s break down the (maybe not so) oat-rageous claims, one by one.
1. Yes, oat milk can be a bad choice for those with gluten sensitivities
When you’re gluten-free, you can enjoy a big cozy bowl of oatmeal—so why would oat milk be any different? According to health coach Jenny Carr, author of Peace of Cake: The Secret to An Anti-Inflammatory Diet, the ancient grain might be naturally gluten-free, but that’s not always the case by the time it makes it into your coffee cup. While some brands are labeled as gluten-free and won’t be an issue, others are full of it.
“The problem is that the majority of oats and oat products are processed in plants which also process wheat, rye, and barley—all of which contain gluten,” Carr says. If you don’t have a gluten sensitivity, that cross-contamination isn’t a big deal. But if you do, it could really take a toll on your body. “From an inflammatory stance, the minute amount of cross-contamination isn’t enough to substantially impact one’s health. However, if you do have gluten sensitivity—which many of us do—or if you’re celiac, cross-contamination becomes a very big problem” she says.
Because of that, anyone who has rid their lives of gluten for health reasons might want to choose a different option. “If staying completely gluten-free is of importance to you, oat milk probably isn’t the best non-dairy option,” Carr says. There’s one exception to the rule, though: You can DIY some at home to ensure your batch is actually safe to drink. “You can always make your own oat milk with oats that are specifically labeled as gluten-free and organic.”
2. Most oat milks probably do contain pesticides
It turns out oats in general are a lot dirtier than you think. According to Carr, the US Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program reports to have found seven different pesticide residues in them—and they’re not pretty. “Of these seven pesticides, they were broken down into categories that are: known or are probable carcinogens, suspected hormone disruptors, neurotoxins, and are toxins that impact development or reproduction,” she says. “In addition, these pesticides in oats are impacting the health and well-being of honeybee toxins—a major environmental effect. This alone makes the standard packaged oat milk far less appetizing.”
Since oats are the number one ingredient in oat milks, it’s just all the more reason to only buy from companies who make it their mission to use grains that aren’t treated with anything that can cause harm to your body or the environment.
3. If you’re concerned about inflammation, oat milk may not be for you
Like LeVeque, Carr’s first choice when recommending dairy-free milk alternatives to people definitely isn’t oat milk, and there are a few different reasons for that—one of them being its ability to cause inflammation, because of the down-low gluten factor (see #1 above). “It’s usually wise to lean on the conservative side if removing inflammation from your body is a primary goal,” she says. “It can also be more challenging to find oat milk that’s both organic and gluten-free. I mean, who wants all of those toxins hanging out in the body from something they thought was a healthy food?”
There’s also a third reason oat milk could cause inflammation that not many people think about, and it’s lurking right on the ingredients list. “It’s nearly always packed with canola or rapeseed oil,” Carr says. “Canola oil is a low-quality omega-6 oil.” And most of the time, it’s genetically modified, Carr says—so if you’re concerned about GMOs, steer clear.
How to enjoy oat milk worry-free
So, how can you enjoy your oat milk without worry? It all comes down to choosing your products wisely—and reading the labels. While the brands Elmhurst and Oatly currently offer the cleanest options of the bunch, you’ll want to throughly inspect any oat milk before making a purchase. To minimize any inflammatory response, make sure the milk is certified gluten-free and organic, Carr says.
When you’re looking at the ingredients, the best options all have one thing in common: very short and wholesome lists. “Ideally, all you’ll find are organic oats, sea salt, and water,” she says. But in reality, the only way you’re probably going to luck out that much is by making it yourself—especially since most packaged options will at least contain preservatives that allow them to sit on store shelves for long periods of time. Luckily, that’s easy to do (get the instructions here!)—and when you’re sipping your delicious frothy latte, your only concern will be trying not to down it too quickly.
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