Healthy Drinks

Is Oat Milk Healthy? Here, an RD Tell-All on Your Favorite Alt-Milk

Tehrene Firman

Photo: Getty Images/d3sign
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 much-loved product could barely stay on store shelves long enough for health-conscious shoppers to add it into their shopping carts.

This fully tracks. Oat milk is just one of those products that once you try it, it's hard to remember a time when it wasn't so widely available. It's the creamy and oh-so-delicious mix-in you never knew your daily latte needed. But it's also one of those things that's so delicious, you can't help but wonder if there's a catch. Is oat milk healthy, or are we all just playing ourselves?

Is oat milk healthy? Here, the benefits of oat milk

Because oat milk is relatively new, the USDA hasn't produced a standard for oat milk nutrients just yet. For reference, here's the nutrition info for one cup of Oatly.

  • Calories: 120
  • Protein: 3 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 16 grams
  • Fat: 5 grams
  • Sodium: 0.1 grams
  • Fiber: 2 grams
  • Sugar: 7 grams

Beyond the nutritional profile, oat milk has a decent amount of benefits to offer, including:

1. It has some fiber (unlike other milks). Oat milk has more fiber in comparison to other alt-milks and cow's milk. In a recent episode of You Versus FoodTracy Lockwood Beckerman, RD, explains this is thanks to beta glucan, "a super dietary fiber found in oats that's been celebrated for its cholesterol-lowering properties." Specifically, it's been shown to lower LDL cholesterol, AKA the bad kind which has been associated with heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular problems.

2. It's full of vitamin B. The healthy slow-digesting carbs found in oat milk deliver B vitamins, which aid in red blood cell production and the conversion of food to energy. Beckerman says this provides you with sustainable fuel and energy to get you through your day.

3. It's (slightly) higher in protein compared to most other alternatives. The protein count varies from brand to brand, but generally, Beckerman says that oat milk has more protein than other alt milks, save for soy or pea milk. (For example, almond milk has only 1 gram of protein per serving.) However, it still does not compare with cow's milk, which is the gold standard at 8 to 9 grams per cup.

4. It's a great option if you have food allergies. Alt-milks were off the table for lots of people with food allergies for a long time—people who have nut allergies couldn't partake in almond or cashew milk, and people with soy allergies had to skip the soy milk. Oat milk is friendly to both of those allergy types, but see below for information about gluten.

Watch this video from Lockwood Beckerman to learn more about oat milk benefits: 

Are there downsides to oat milk?

Generally, no—oat milk is good for you. But as with any food product, you should check the label on whatever kind of oat milk you buy. Many brands do contain an excessive amount of added sugars, and some also have oils to maintain structure and viscosity, Beckerman says. (Good to know!) But if your go-to brand is a little on the sweet side, Beckerman says you shouldn't sweat it too much: "It's such a small percentage added to the beverage and really shouldn't deter you from adding a splash or two to your coffee." If you're eating bowls of cereal with oat milk or adding lot of it to smoothies, double check the nutrition label for added sugars.

The only minor caveat, other than being mindful of sugar, regards anyone with celiac or a gluten sensitivity. 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 do contain 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 or if you're celiac, cross-contamination can be a 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."

Bottom line? It all comes down to choosing your products wisely—and reading the labels. While the brands Califia Farms, Elmhurst, Minor Figures, and Oatly currently offer some of the best options of the bunch, you'll want to inspect any oat milk before making a purchase. When you're looking at the ingredients, the best options all have one thing in common: very short and wholesome lists.

How to make oat milk from scratch

Ingredients
1 cup of gluten-free steel-cut oats
6 cups filtered water
2 Tbsp pure maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp sea salt

Instructions

  • Add the oats and three cups of water to a large bowl.
  • Soak the oats for at least 20 minutes (but not too long, or the milk will be a slimy texture!), then rinse and drain.
  • Add soaked oats, maple syrup, vanilla extract, cinnamon, salt, and remaining three cups of water into a powerful blender. Blend for about 20 seconds, but again, don't overdo it: you want your milk's texture to be perfect.
  • Pour and strain the mixture into a large bowl. The mixture will take several minutes to strain completely.
  • Repeat blending and straining process two to three times until the consistency is thick and smooth.
  • Store in the fridge and use in your coffees, matcha, teas, and cereals.

See the process in action here:

How oat milk compares to other alternative milks

A question many have when considering oat milk benefits is whether or not it's a healthier choice than cow's milk and other dairy-free options, like almond or soy milk. We spoke with Melissa Rifkin, MS, RD, to get her take on protein and calcium content of alternative milks here. Some highlights below:

1. Protein: Oat milk has 3 to 4 grams of protein per serving, which is more than almond milk but less than cow's milk (which has 8 grams per serving).

2. Calcium: Fortified oat milk may contain more calcium than cow's milk. Rifkin estimates that the most common alt-milks—including oat, almond, soy, coconut, and rice—range from 300-450 mg of calcium per cup, thanks to fortification. "But again, because calcium content will vary widely from brand to brand, it's important to check nutrition labels if calcium is a nutrient you are keeping an eye on," she says. Cow's milk has 300 mg per cup.

You'll go totally bananas for this vegan alt-milk option. Or check out the rosy-hued oat milk latte that's as delicious as it is pretty.

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