Is Oat Milk Healthy? We Consulted a Registered Dietitian to Learn About the Trendy Milk Alternative
Have you tried oat milk? If you are hesitant to try it either because you're not sure if you'll enjoy the taste as much as almond or cow's milk, or you're wondering if it's actually healthy for you, fret no more. Lauren Hoover, RD, MS at SHIFT in Chicago, lends insight on whether or not oat milk may be a good milk alternative for you.
Is oat milk a healthy milk alternative?
"For individuals who don't tolerate dairy products, oat milk is a suitable milk alternative," says Hoover. Aside from those who are lactose-intolerant or have another kind of intolerance to milk, oat milk is another great milk substitute for individuals who follow a vegan diet.
"When looking at the macronutrient profile, oat milk has about 4 grams of protein per serving," she says. "For comparison, this is lower than the 8 grams of protein in cow's milk, but higher than some other popular milk alternatives, including almond milk, cashew milk, and coconut milk."
When your diet is solely (or even predominantly) plant-based, it's all the more important to make sure you're getting enough protein to sustain energy, facilitate muscle repair, and avoid illness. Some brands of almond milk, for example, only contain 2 grams of protein per cup—half of what the average glass of oat milk will yield.
Hoover also points out that oat milk often contains more carbohydrates than traditional nut milk, and as a result, is more calorically dense. While a cup of unsweetened almond milk typically consists of just 30 calories, one cup of unsweetened oat milk contains about 100-130 calories. So if you're trying to shed a few pounds, oat milk may not be the best option for you.
"I find oat milk a bit creamier and comparable to cow's milk, so it is one of my favorites, personally," says Hoover.
Are there any ingredients in oat milk that could cause gastrointestinal stress?
Have you ever looked on the back of the carton of almond milk and wondered exactly what xanthan gum or locust bean gum was? Ingredients such as these gums and even carrageenan are used as a stabilizing and thickening agent in various foods, including non-dairy products. Without these ingredients, the texture of your milk alternative may feel a bit grainy or not as smooth. However, it's possible that some of these stabilizers could be irritating your gut, so it's important that you're mindful of the ingredients that are swirled into milk alternatives.
"Some of the common fillers and gums that are added to milk alternatives have been shown to cause gastrointestinal distress [such as] bloating and gas," says Hoover. "Since ingredients can vary based on the brand or type of oat milk, it is best to look at the ingredient list on the nutrition label for possible irritants, including artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, and gums."
This is especially important if you have a known intolerance to one of these additives, but generally, most people don't experience these symptoms.
In general, why should you opt for the original or unsweetened version of milk alternatives?
Unfortunately, milk alternatives that are marketed as healthier are sometimes chock-full of added sugars. Of course, the more sugar that's in a product, the higher the carb content and calories will be. Hoover suggests noshing on a complex carbohydrate such as a piece of fruit rather than getting a sweet fix through a simple carbohydrate such as refined sugar that's added to flavored milk alternatives.
"As we know, oat milk already contains a higher carbohydrate content, so keeping added sugars to a minimum is recommended," she adds.
Do you have a favorite brand or flavor of oat milk that you recommend?
"I like Oatly oatmilk because it has 3 grams of protein and polyunsaturated fats to help increase satiety," says Hoover.
She also admits her main pull to Oatly is the taste, and she recommends prioritizing that aspect just as much as the protein content when perusing the various brands of oat milk in the grocery store. Think about it this way: if you're going to drink it in a smoothie or in a glass by itself, wouldn't you want to enjoy the taste?
Would you say oat milk is healthier than cow's milk?
"I would not say that oat milk is healthier than cow's milk, they are just different," Hoover explains. "Cow's milk has more protein and also is a complete protein, meaning it contains all of the essential amino acids. Oat milk can be a great alternative for those that are unable to tolerate dairy or milk."
What other milk alternatives do you recommend?
If cow's milk is out of the question, Hoover recommends soy milk primarily because it contains 7 grams of protein per cup and houses all nine essential amino acids. Another great alternative is pea milk, which contains 8 grams of protein, as well as all of the essential amino acids, which is important because the body cannot make these on its own and they must be acquired through diet.
"Overall, plant-based milk alternatives are nutritionally inferior to cow's milk, so if you are able to tolerate cow's milk, that would be my recommended preferred choice," Hoover adds.