Plant-based milk alternatives have been on the rise and, more recently, oat milk has become a popular choice. Almost every coffee shop you walk into will have oat milk as an alternative for lattes and other beverages. It is much more eco-friendly than cow’s milk and has many benefits for those who seek a vegan alternative but, despite its popularity and marketing as a healthy milk option, some nutritionists are concerned about whether or not oat milk is actually good for you.
One major benefit of oat milk is that many store-bought brands are fortified with calcium, Vitamin D and Vitamin B-12 — an especially important vitamin for people on vegan diets. Oats also contain beta-glucan which lowers low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, otherwise known as the “bad cholesterol.” Beta-glucan can help lower the risk of heart disease due to its gel-like properties that aid in the excretion of cholesterol.
However, oat milk lacks the amount of Vitamin B-12 that cow’s milk contains, and those who opt for this alternative are recommended by dieticians to seek a B-12 supplement. Oat milk also contains much less protein in comparison to cow’s milk, another factor to consider when incorporating it into your diet.
In addition to these nutritional concerns, one of the major downsides of oat milk is that most available products are considered “ultra-processed,” meaning that there are a significant amount of additives and other added ingredients. Some oat milk brands may contain added sugars, emulsifiers and highly processed gums for thickening. One study has shown that a diet containing mostly ultra-processed foods significantly increases the risk of cancer and heart disease. However, oat milk is generally safe in moderation and is recommended to be consumed in conjunction with foods or supplements that provide the necessary nutrients missing from traditional cow’s milk such as vitamins D, A, B-12 and calcium.
So, how does oat milk compare to other plant-based milk alternatives, such as almond milk and soy milk? Many oat milk and almond milk brands contain the same fortifying vitamins and minerals, but oat milk contains higher amounts of protein, fat and fiber. Soy milk has a very similar nutritional profile to both of these options but contains the highest protein content. Although there are some nutritional differences between these options, choosing one over another will likely not make a significant impact on your health.
When weighing which milk option to choose, cost is another factor that many might want to consider. Oat milk is generally the most expensive and costs about twice as much as dairy milk. A possible alternative to store-bought oat milk is making oat milk at home — a simple and much cheaper option. Homemade oat milk also avoids the many additives and highly processed ingredients that store-bought products use. If you choose to make your own oat milk, you can also fortify it with supplemental vitamins and minerals.
Finally, another major factor that many consider when choosing a milk alternative is how environmentally friendly it is. Oat milk is one of the most sustainable options because it uses the least amount of water and emits low amounts of greenhouse gasses. On the other hand, almond milk uses less land resources than oat milk but requires the most amount of water out of all plant-based milk alternatives. This option is not ideal in terms of water conservation, as it takes 3.2 gallons of water to produce a single almond.
Soy milk also produces a low amount of greenhouse gas emissions and requires much less water than almond milk, but it is a significant driver of deforestation — particularly in the Amazon rainforest. To avoid contributing to this, soy milk can be bought from brands using soybeans grown in the United States. Despite these differences, all plant-based milk is overall more environmentally friendly than cow’s milk because of dairy farming’s carbon emissions. Not only is cattle farming the biggest agricultural contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, but it also contributes heavily to deforestation.
Due to the nutritional concerns surrounding oat milk, it is not necessarily as healthy as it is often made out to be. However, while it is not considered a superfood, this does not mean it is extremely bad for your health. Oat milk is safe to consume in moderation, so there is no need for oat milk lovers to fear. But, if you do opt for oat milk as a dairy alternative, you might want to look into choosing high-quality brands that avoid highly processed ingredients and additives, or maybe even try making some at home!