Everyone Loves Oat Milk… But Is It Actually Healthy?

WRITTEN BY Jessica Bippen, MS, RD

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Oat milk is in such high demand that companies can’t keep up with production. 

Jessica Bippen, MS, RD, sheds some light on why oat milk has become the plant-based milk of choice for latte enthusiasts everywhere. Plus: how it compares to other plant-based milk options.

On Board with Oat Milk?

Oat milk is the hottest coffee-shop specialty. Why? Simply put, it’s delicious. It’s thick, creamy, and froths up like full-fat milk in a latte or cappuccino. In fact, it outperforms basically all other plant-based milks out there for its sublime froth factor. And we all know the froth is the best part of a latte!

Aside from the taste, the oat-milk craze has really taken off due to a genius marketing strategy from Swedish company Oatly. Oatly started selling their oat milk to coffee shops back in 2016, creating a sense of exclusivity since the milk wasn’t widely available in grocery stores.

Oatly is now sold in grocery stores across the US, and other companies are jumping on the trend. Large corporations such as Quaker and Silk are even dipping into the oat-milk craze with products launching in early 2019. Word on the street is you can pre-order Califia Farms’s oat milk on their website.

Milk Alternatives - The Wellnest by HUM Nutrition

Let’s Talk Nutrition

Plant-based milk varies in terms of nutrition. Of the top choices, soy milk has the most similar nutrition profile to cow’s milk with about eight grams of protein. Oat milk is pretty comparable to the other top dairy-free milk substitutions like almond and cashew. However, oat milk is much higher in carbohydrates.

Here’s how one cup of the top plant-based milks compare. (Keep in mind that nutritional information can vary greatly based on the brand.)

Oatly Oat Milk

120 calories, 5 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 16 g carbs, 2 g dietary fiber, 1 g soluble fiber, 7 g sugar, and 3 g protein

Califia Farms Almond Milk

35 calories, 3 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 1 g carbs, 1 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar, and 1 g protein

Silk Cashew Milk

25 calories, 2 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 1 g carbs, 0 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar, and <1 g protein

Silk Organic Soy Milk

80 calories, 4 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 4 g carbs, 2 g dietary fiber, 1 g sugar, and 7 g protein

As you can see, oat milk contains only three grams of protein. It’s less than the seven grams of protein in soy milk, but slightly more than milk made from almonds or cashews. Most plant-based milks are fortified with vitamins like D, A, B12, and calcium. However, it’s important to check the label if these nutrients are key factors in your selection of plant-based milk.

Despite oats being high in fiber, after processing them into milk, there isn’t much left. Oat milk contains about two grams of fiber, which is similar to soy and almond milks. However, it does have the benefit of containing beta-glucans, a type of soluble fiber that may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Oat Milk Nutrition - The Wellnest by HUM Nutrition

Something Icky To Watch Out For

Before you swap out your almond milk for oat, there are some things you should take into consideration.

Recent testing from the Environmental Working Group shows that oats are often contaminated with glyphosphate, the active chemical in Roundup herbicide. Yikes! The World Health Organization considers glyphosate a probable carcinogen, so it’s not something you want to expose yourself to, let alone eat. Here’s why it happens. Many farmers spray non-organic oats with Roundup before harvest, which can then contaminate the oats and oat products.

The good news? Tests do show that organic oats are less likely to be contaminated. Some companies go as far as having their oats pass through third-party testing to guarantee their oats don’t contain glyphosate. Oatly is one such company that guarantees their oat milk is glyphosate-free.

In order to steer clear of any glyphosate contamination, look for oat milk that’s organic and certified glyphosate-free. Most companies will pride themselves on this fact if they have these certifications. Thus a quick look on their respective websites is a good idea before making your purchase.

Other Healthy Considerations

Most of the oat milk on the market includes canola oil (aka rapeseed oil) as an ingredient. Canola oil is a low-quality omega-6 oil that’s also inflammatory. While we need omega-6 oils, there’s a delicate ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s, and most Americans are getting much more omega-6 oils than necessary to keep that balance.

Another thing to be aware of is the sugar content. Oatly’s original has seven grams of naturally occurring sugar from the oats. The other varieties of Oatly and other brands like Elmhurst and Pacific Foods have added sugar, with Pacific Foods packing in a whopping 19 grams of sugar!

My advice? Read your labels! Ideally, your oat milk should be made from oats and water. And maybe some salt and fortification—but that’s it. Realistically, there aren’t many oat milks out there with this ingredient list. Califia Farms’s new oat milk may be giving others a run for their money by using sunflower oil and no added sugar.

How To Make Your Own Oat Milk At Home

The good news is oat milk is easy to make at home! All you need is organic steel-cut or rolled oats, water, and a pinch of salt. The standard ratio is a half cup of oats to two cups of water, but you can play with the ratio depending on how rich and creamy (or thin) you like your milk. Start by soaking a half cup of oats in water for at least 30 minutes. Then, drain and rinse to remove any sticky coating that forms. Once the oats are fully soaked, blend the oats with water and salt, then strain it using a nut-milk bag or cheesecloth.

The Bottom Line

Oat milk is delicious in a latte here and there, but you’re better off opting for another plant-based milk in your smoothie (or if you’re drinking it by the glass). This trendy beverage has created quite the buzz, so there may be more oat milk brands out on the market soon. Just do yourself a favor and always read the label. Opt for organic oat milk with minimal ingredients, and if possible, no added sugar or unhealthy additives.

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