Is Oat Milk Healthy? Here's What Our Nutritionist Says
There's no doubt about it—oat milk is blowing up right now. Oatly launched the first popular variety in early 2018, and people couldn’t stop adding the richly textured milk into their coffee (which, in turn, caused a shortage online.) Not wanting to miss out on the action, Quaker Oats is rolling out their own bottled version this month and Silk's oat milk is slated to be released in early 2019.
Oat milk tastes delicious, and people can't get enough of a non-dairy milk that tastes comparable to whole milk (especially in coffee.) But what are the benefits of oat milk? And, despite being delicious, is it actually healthy for you?
Fans of plant-based milks are aware of the demand for nut-based milks. Almond milk, in particular, has created a strain on environmental resources as farmers race to harvest nuts just to process them into milk. It's one of the first things that Cooking Light's Nutritional Director, Brierley Horton, MS, RD, pointed out about oat milk—the true benefit may be that oats are more ubiquitous than nuts, and could serve as a "greener" option for a plant-based milk compared to nuts.
An investigation by Mic shares that Oatly actually works to provide scraps of unused oats to third parties in order to make the most of their product, making it a much more sustainable product than many nut-based milks which require lots of resources to grow and then to process.
But what about nutrition? Horton took a look at three of the leading oat milks on the market currently—Elmhurst's oat milk, Thrive Market's oat beverage, and Pacific Foods' vanilla oat beverage—and compared them to other popular nut-based milks on the market.
More on plant-based milks you should know about:
"Oat milk has more calories than, say, almond milk. And even more so than skim milk, but it's actually not too far off from a 1 or 2 percent milk from a calorie standpoint," Horton says. "But oat milk does have fewer grams of fat than a few leading almond milk brands, including Silk."
Where oat milk may outshine other plant-based milks is not such a surprise: fiber. "Oat milk also delivers a little bit of fiber, with 1 to 2 grams per serving," Horton says.
But the calorie counts and sugar levels can vary among bottled oat milk products. For example, Elmhurst's product contains 4g of sugar and 100 calories for a full 8-ounce serving: Thrive Market's oat beverage, on the other hand, contains 110 calories and 13g of sugar for the same amount. If you can get your hands on it, Oatly's variety packs 120 calories into a cup's worth of oat milk alongside 7g of sugar.
And because oat milk is largely being produced by major manufacturers for the first time, there's no evidence of any sugar-free varieties yet, unlike many other sugar-free, nut-based milks (i.e.: Silk unsweetened almond milk).
Horton says it's best to enjoy oat milk in moderation if you're buying it from the store, but also suggests a hack to make sure your oat beverage is as healthy as it can be. The secret? Making it at home.
We've previously published guidance on how to make your own oat milk at home: keep each half cup of oats to 2 cups of filtered water, soak steel-cut grains for at least 30 minutes before blending, and don't forget to strain through a cheesecloth to eliminate clumps. You can also customize this simple recipe with as much added sugar as you'd like, as well as any flavoring you prefer.
The bottom line: Oat milk is undeniably delicious and a great addition to your breakfast bowl or cup of joe, but you could be adding extra calories and sugar if you buy pre-packaged versions. The best solution is to make your own batch at home to control just how rich your oat milk actually is.