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Should You Switch to Oat Milk?

Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on March 15, 2021

You've probably seen a different kind of "milk" recently on the menu of your favorite coffee shop or in the grocery store. Oat milk is a popular plant-based drink made with oats, water, and sometimes a few other ingredients.

You can make your own oat milk as well as buy it in the store. You can drink it on its own or add it to smoothies, tea, or coffee. Its creaminess makes it a good nondairy choice for foamy drinks like lattes.

But what makes oat milk different from other milky alternatives like soy, almond, and rice milks?

Nutrition and Oat Milk

Compared to other nondairy options like almond and rice milk, oat milk has more fiber (about 2 grams per cup) and protein (3 grams). But it’s also higher in calories (120 per cup) and carbs (16 grams). If you prefer a lower-carb milk alternative, almond milk may be a better choice.

Oat milk has about half as much protein as cow’s milk. And like other plant-based milk substitutes, the proteins it contains are incomplete. That means that, unlike dairy milk, it lacks some of the essential amino acids your body needs.

Like many other store-bought plant milks, oat milk usually has added vitamin D and calcium to promote bone health. Riboflavin and vitamin A are also added to most brands. Iron is the only nutrient that naturally occurs in oat milk. Cow’s milk also provides calcium, vitamin D, riboflavin, and vitamin A. But unlike oat milk, it contains potassium, phosphorus, vitamin B12, and niacin as well.

Of course, if you make your own oat milk, it won’t contain these added nutrients.

Sweetened or Unsweetened?

Some store-bought oat milks contain added sugar, especially the flavored types like chocolate or vanilla. Some brands also have oils, stabilizers, or gums.

To cut down on sugar, look for the word “unsweetened” on the label. And choose brands with a short ingredient list for fewer additives.

Allergies

Oat milk is safe for people with dairy and soy allergies. It's also a good choice for those who have a tree nut allergy and want to avoid dairy.

But if you have celiac disease or are staying away from gluten, check the label on the milk carton (or on the oatmeal if you're making your own). Some oats are processed in factories that also handle gluten-containing grains.

An Environmental Edge

Many people choose plant milks because their carbon footprint is smaller than that of dairy milks. But some have concerns about genetically modified soybeans in soy milk, or pesticide and water use by almond growers. Research has found that growing oats has less environmental impact than either almonds or soy.

How to Make It

To make your own oat milk at home, mix one part old-fashioned oatmeal (not instant) to two parts water. Let it sit overnight, then blend the mixture thoroughly or strain through a piece of cheesecloth. Add some vanilla or maple syrup if you like.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Cleveland Clinic: “Is Oat Milk Good for You? A Dietitian Explains This Trendy Dairy Alternative.”

United Dairy Industry of Michigan: “What’s the Deal with Oat Milk.”

Canadian Society of Intestinal Research: "Milk Alternatives."

U.S.D.A.: Food Data Central.

University of California at San Francisco Office of Sustainability: "Almond Milk Is Taking a Toll on the Environment.

Science: "Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers."

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