Many of us were encouraged to consume cow’s milk growing up because it was said to be healthy and full of vitamins and minerals our body’s need. So having it with cereal or pancakes for breakfast was common, as was drinking it alongside cookies as a treat.
Now, however, cow’s milk is not deemed as healthy as it once was. Many people can’t properly process the lactose in it, and for others, milk can promote mucus and cause inflammation. As a result, more and more people are ditching cow’s milk for alternative milks, such as soy, almond, hemp, rice, and coconut milk.
One new dairy-free milk that has been making waves in the wellness world is oat milk. Yes, the same oats you make oatmeal with can be turned into a creamy, delicious milk too and people are loving it. Robyn Openshaw, MSW, founder of GreenSmoothieGirl tells us oat milk sales grew 425 percent from 2017 to 2018. Even Starbucks now has oat milk on the menu for people who want to add it to their coffees and lattes.
As with most health food trends, it’s important to first do a little research before you jump on the bandwagon because sometimes something that seems like a healthier option might not be.
To learn more about oat milk, we tapped a few experts to fill us in on all the details. Keep reading to learn if oat milk is actually healthy, if it’s a better option than other milk alternatives, how to make your own oat milk at home, and more.
So, what is oat milk?
"Oat milk is a replacement for cow’s milk made from steel-cut oats or whole groats that have been blended with water and strained,” Openshaw says. "It has a naturally sweet flavor and a consistency similar to cow's milk, which makes it appealing to people who are trying to cut down their dairy intake but want an easy transition.”
However, all oat milks are not created equal. The taste does depend on the brand you buy. “Some brands are creamy and super-satisfying, while others have a funny after-taste,” says Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD, CLEC.
Dr. Divya L. Selvakumar, PhD, RD, tells us advanced machinery is used to produce commercial oat milk. “First, the oats are milled and then broken down into very small components,” she says. “The bran is later separated from the oats, and later enriched with vitamins, flavoring, and minerals. When the milk is ready, it undergoes sterilization before being packaged.”
Is oat milk healthy?
The short answer is yes, oat milk is good for you. It’s full of nutritional value. “For just one cup of oat milk, you are getting 120 nutrient-dense calories full of vitamins A and D at 18% DV for both, along with iron, potassium, fiber, calcium at 27% DV and five grams of healthy fats,” says Lisa Richards, a nutritionist and author of The Candida Diet. Dr. Selvakumar adds that oat milk also has 16 grams of carbohydrates and 22% DV from phosphorus.
Oat milk is also nut and gluten-free, which means it’s a good alternative for people with nut allergies and gluten intolerances, Dr. Selvakumar says. Be sure to double check the label though because not all oat milks are gluten-free.
How does oat milk compare to other alternative milks?
Although experts agree that oat milk is healthy, it’s difficult to say whether or not it’s better or healthier than other milk alternatives because each type of milk provides its own set of nutritional benefits and every person has different needs.
Openshaw believes oat milk is a superior choice over traditional cow’s milk, but doesn’t offer the same nutritional value that other alternative milks do. “Other vegan milks, like raw almond milk and coconut milk, boast a stronger roster of vitamins and minerals than oat milk, making them better overall choices in terms of health benefits,” she says.
One area where oat milk does take the lead over other milks is fiber. Richards tells us that oat milk provides more fiber than other milk alternatives, which is great since so many people don’t consume enough fiber. “Cow's milk has no fiber and other alternatives have between zero and 1 gram of fiber,” she says. “This is excellent for heart health as fiber helps to remove cholesterol from the blood and out of the body.”
Openshaw notes that one study found that men who drank three glasses of oat milk for five weeks had a lower serum and LDL cholesterol levels.
Another pro: “The fat content of oat milk is not from saturated fat making it even more beneficial for heart health,” Richards says.
Oat milk is also eco-friendly which is always a plus. “It boasts a smaller carbon footprint than other plant-based beverages making it friendlier to the environment,” Openshaw says.
In the end, the best and healthiest milk option depends on the individual’s taste preferences, nutritional needs, medical history, and allergies.
For example, if you’re a vegan, drinking oat milk can be beneficial. “Vegans generally do not get enough vitamin B12 in their diets, but oat milk provides 50% DV of this essential nutrient,” Richards says.
On the other hand if your goal is to lose weight, Dr. Selvakumar recommends almond milk or soy milk instead since it has a lower caloric content.
Openshaw, however, warns that oat milk is a better option than soy milk. Although soy milk provides more protein than oat milk, it’s also known as an endocrine disruptor and usually contains GMO.
Can babies/children drink oat milk too?
For babies and children, it’s best to consult with their pediatrician first to know whether or not oat milk will be good for them. Generally speaking, however, Dr. Selvakumar recommends that babies under the age of one avoid oat milk since their immune system isn’t fully developed. “Breastmilk is best for the child with regards to both growth and development,” she says. Once the child is a bit older, you can then introduce a small quantity of oat milk first and see if they can tolerate it.
How do you select the best oat milk?
Lucky for us, oat milk’s growing popularity means that’s pretty easy to find in many grocery stores or even online. When you’re shopping for oat milk, make sure you always check the label first. Just because it says oat milk, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy.
"I suggest looking for organic oat milk that doesn't contain any emulsifiers, gums, or sugar,” Openshaw says. “I'm partial to a brand called RISE, which has just four ingredients: Finnish organic oats, French organic sunflower seeds, water, and a bit of sea salt."
Openshaw also strongly recommends avoiding oat milks with additives. “You'll often see products that have added emulsifiers, which increases the shelf life and provides uniformity in consistency and texture,” she says. “This ingredient might make sense from a business perspective, but it's been linked to low-grade inflammation and changes in the gut microbiota that can result in inflammatory bowel disease and metabolic syndrome.”
If you’re planning on mixing your oat milk with your coffee as a replacement for creamer, Dr. Selvakumar recommends ensuring that the one you purchase is not mixed with oil. “This will affect the nutritional content altogether,” she says.
Openshaw adds that rapeseed oil is commonly found in store-bought milks. “It contains high amounts of erucic acid, which has been linked to cardiovascular damage,” she says. “Ultimately, if you're making the change to oat milk for health reasons, it's foolish to sabotage your decision with these harmful ingredients. Go for a product that's going to support your overall health instead."
Besides the ingredient list, the other thing to take into account when shopping for the right oat milk is taste. It has to taste good in order for you and your family to actually drink it. So try out a few different brands until you find one that you like, but remember to always check the labels.
One of the downsides of oat milk is that it may be more expensive than traditional milk. If that is the case, making it at home might be a more affordable option.
How to make your homemade oat milk
Although buying your oat milk at the grocery store is great, the best way to get your oat milk is to just make it yourself. It’s actually very easy to do and you’ll have the added peace of mind knowing that there is no excess sugar, preservatives, additives, or thickeners added in.
There is, however, one downside to making your own oat milk, but it’s definitely not a deal breaker. “You will be missing the fortification of calcium and vitamin D from commercially made options,” Richards says, which is beneficial for bone health. But all in all, making your own oat milk is still the best and healthiest option.
Here is a simple oat milk recipe you can try at home.
1. To make your oat milk, Openshaw suggests first soaking one cup of organic oats in one cup of water for 30 minutes.
2. Next put the soaked oats into a blender along with three additional cups of water and a pinch of salt if you’d like. You can use less water if you want a creamier texture.
3. Then blend for about one minute.
4. Lastly, you need to strain the mixture once or twice (depending on your desired consistency) using a thin towel, cheesecloth, or a nut milk bag.
“Voila!” Openshaw says. “You have oat milk!”
Optional step: If you want to add a little more flavor to your oat milk, Openshaw recommends also adding in a pitted date, a little bit of vanilla extract, or some fresh berries when you’re blending. To make your oat milk a bit sweeter, Richards suggests adding a bit of cinnamon, honey, or maple syrup.
Once your oat milk is to your liking, you can drink it up on its own for a tasty, nutritional boost. There are also so many ways you can incorporate it into your diet, including adding a splash to your morning coffee, using it for smoothies, and having it with cereal. The possibilities are endless just as with other alternative milks.
If you don’t have your oat milk right away, you can store it in the fridge. Openshaw says it’ll stay fresh for up to five days.
So there you have it, oat milk is a great alternative to cow’s milk or other plant-based milks, especially for those that can’t have lactose, gluten, soy, or nuts. It’s full of vitamins A and D, healthy carbohydrates, iron, potassium, calcium, and has more fiber than other milk alternatives. The fact that it has a delicious and creamy taste just makes it that much better.