How Healthy Is Oat Milk, Exactly? The Answer May Surprise You
Oat milk is the most popular non-diary milk alternatives on the market right now. Between its naturally sweet and nutty flavor, so-creamy texture, and laundry list of purported health benefits, it isn’t hard to figure out why everyone—lactose-intolerant or not—is opting to order their latté with oat milk over the regular stuff. Oat milk is more sustainable to make than some other non-dairy milk alternatives (almond milk, for one), too. It also has the capability of foaming or frothing just as well as regular milk for fancy barista beverages, like cappuccinos.
We hate to be seen as skeptics, but this alt milk is sounding borderline too-good-to-be-true. Seriously, try it for yourself and see if you also find yourself wondering, “How healthy is oat milk, really?” Ashley Koff, a Registered Dietician and CEO of the Better Nutrition Program (and consultant for Califia Farms), helped us answer this question. Long story short, we have good news.
How does oat milk compare to whole milk nutritionally?
Oat milk has a healthier fat profile than whole milk: it has less or zero grams of saturated fat and the same or more unsaturated fat (aka healthy fats!) compared to whole milk. Oat milk also doesn’t contain any cholesterol, while whole milk has 24 milligrams per cup.
Oat milk typically contains a similar amount of vitamins and minerals as cow's milk: a cup of fortified oat or while milk provides about 20 percent of your daily value for both vitamin A and vitamin D. Oat milk also has more fiber (2 to 4 grams vs. 0 grams), carbs (15 to 20 grams vs. 12 grams per serving), and less protein (2 grams vs. 8 grams) than cow’s milk. However, there are oat milk options that can deliver a 1:1 ratio on certain macronutrients, like protein, calcium, and omega fatty acids. For example, Califia Farms recently introduced Uber Oatmilks, which offer the same protein and all eight essential amino acids, omegas 3, 6, and 9, vitamins, and minerals that you can find in dairy milk.
That said, not all oat milks are created equal, and some may not contain protein or healthy fats. Check your product’s label. If your oat milk is lacking in protein or healthy fats, be sure to drink it with other foods that do, like a bowl of cereal with walnuts and hemp seeds. Or pair your oat milk latte with a hard boiled egg.
What are some situations where you should drink oat milk instead of whole milk or another alternative milk?
If you have a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance but want the thick and creamy consistency of a whole milk, a quality oat milk is a great alternative. Swapping whole milk for oat milk would also be helpful to anyone trying to lower their saturated fat or increase their unsaturated fat intake.
Are all oat milks the same? What should we look for in oat milks?
Always look at the nutritional panel before you buy, because there is a lot of variability in the alt-milk market.
The most important thing to remember about nutrition is that many oat milks pack a LOT of added sugar. Per the World Health Organization, adults should keep their added sugar intake to 6 teaspoons max. One teaspoon equals 4 grams of sugars on a label—so when you see oat milks with 16 grams per 8-ounce serving, that’s one to avoid.
Other differences include the “other” ingredients in your oat milk. Oat milks do not need stabilizers or gums because oats naturally get gummy when combined with water. These may not be a health issue, but it’s great to know your oat milk oat milk doesn’t contain them.
Another issue is gluten–if it’s an issue for you, make sure you’re the oats are certified gluten free and the other ingredients are gluten-free.
One oat milk that meets all of Koff’s “watch out” criteria is Califia Farms Unsweetened Oatmilk. It's deliciously creamy, has no added sugar—only 2 grams of natural sugar that comes from the oats directly, when the oat is broken down from a grain to a liquid during the oat milk process. It’s also free from stabilizers and gums, is gluten-free, and doesn’t have any other unwanted ingredients. Key takeaway: look for a clean and recognizable ingredients list.