by Rachael Link, MS, RD
You may have heard of almond milk or rice milk, but have you heard of oat milk? This milk alternative is becoming more and more common on supermarket shelves these days due to its delicious flavor and impressive nutrient profile. It’s also ideal for those with dietary restrictions or allergies, as it’s naturally free of dairy, lactose, soy, nuts and gluten — as oats are naturally gluten-free.
Ready to start adding this nutritious ingredient into your routine? Keep reading to find out more about the potential oat milk benefits and side effects, plus how to make your own with just two ingredients required.
What Is Oat Milk?
Oat milk is a vegan alternative to cow’s milk that’s been gaining widespread popularity recently. It’s made by blending one cup of soaked, old-fashioned rolled oats in a blender with about three cups of water and then pouring the liquid through a cheese cloth to extract the milk. Depending on which oat milk recipe you’re using, you can also add cinnamon, vanilla, dates or other natural sweeteners to to enhance the flavor.
Thanks to its growing popularity, oat milk is now available pre-made at many grocery stores and health food markets. Not only have food manufacturers made it easier than ever to enjoy this type of milk, but they also often add extra vitamins and minerals to create a product that’s rich in many micronutrients found in cow’s milk, such as vitamin A, calcium, riboflavin and vitamin D.
Is Oat Milk Healthy? Oat Milk Benefits
- Lactose-Free and Vegan
- Helps Prevent Anemia
- Strengthens Bones
- Boosts Immunity
- Lowers Cholesterol
1. Lactose-Free and Vegan
Whether you avoid conventional milk to minimize your intake of animal products or because the lactose found in milk simply doesn’t agree with your stomach, oat milk is a good alternative. It’s made from oats and water, so it’s free of both dairy and lactose, making it an ideal substitute for those with dietary restrictions who may be following a dairy-free diet.
Much like other nut milks, it can be easily swapped in for milk in many different recipes. You can use it in cold desserts like pudding or ice cream or even add it to your morning bowl of cereal for a quick and convenient vegan milk alternative.
2. Helps Prevent Anemia
Anemia is a serious condition characterized by a lack of red blood cells in the body. This can result in a long list of anemia symptoms, ranging from fatigue to pale skin and beyond. There are many different conditions that can result in anemia, but it is often caused by a lack of certain essential nutrients required for the synthesis of red blood cells, such as iron and vitamin B12. For this reason, those on a vegetarian or vegan diet are at an even higher risk of anemia, as most plant foods are lacking in these important micronutrients.
Just one cup of oat milk contains approximately 10 percent of the iron you need in the entire day, making it an especially good source for vegans and vegetarians. Paired with other iron-rich foods, such as spirulina, lentils and dark chocolate, adding a serving or two of oat milk into your diet can help promote healthy red blood cell production and prevent anemia. (1)
3. Strengthens Bones
Commercial oat milk is often enriched with both calcium and vitamin D, two important micronutrients that play a central role in bone health. Approximately 99 percent of the calcium in your body is found in your bones and is used to regulate bone development and maintenance. (2) Meanwhile, vitamin D works to enhance the absorption of calcium to boost bone health even more. (3)
Upping your intake of both calcium and vitamin D is often recommended in the treatment of conditions like osteoporosis to help keep your bones strong. (4) According to a review out of the University of Cologne’s West-German Osteoporosis Center in Germany, having low levels of calcium and vitamin D may result in an increase in the breakdown of bone cells, plus a higher risk of bone weakness and fractures. (5)
4. Boosts Immunity
When you start feeling a bit under the weather, oat milk may not be the first thing you reach for. However, you can start incorporating it into your diet regularly to help boost your immune system.
Most commercial oat milks are a great source of vitamin D and vitamin A, two nutrients that are essential when it comes to enhancing immunity and warding off illness and infection. Studies show that vitamin D is linked directly to immune cell function, and a deficiency may even be associated with a higher risk of autoimmune conditions, like type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis. (6) Similarly, vitamin A can alter the immune response and may help improve the outcomes for certain types of infectious disease. (7)
5. Lowers Cholesterol
Oats are well-known for their heart-healthy benefits and ability to keep cholesterol levels in check. This is because they contain a type of soluble fiber called beta-glucan, which has been shown to have potent cholesterol-lowering properties. Interestingly enough, research has found that the beneficial effects of beta-glucan in oats are even retained in oat beverages like oat milk. (8)
A human study published in the Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism found that drinking oat milk for five weeks significantly lowered levels of both total and bad LDL cholesterol to a greater extent than rice milk. (9) Another study out of the University of Lund’s Department of Applied Nutrition and Food Chemistry in Sweden had similar findings, reporting that drinking oat milk for just four weeks was effective in reducing cholesterol levels in healthy subjects. (10)
Downsides of Oat Milk
Although it may come with some potential health benefits, there are some oat milk dangers that need to be considered as well.
While buying your oat milk can definitely save you some time, commercial varieties are often pumped full of additives, preservatives and sugars that may diminish some of its health-promoting properties. Although it often contains added vitamins and minerals that can actually be beneficial, oat milk often also contains thickeners and emulsifiers that may impact digestive health and could alter the gut microbiome. (11)
Additionally, although oats are naturally gluten-free, they are often processed in facilities that also process other gluten-containing grains like wheat or barley, resulting in cross-contamination. If you have celiac disease or a sensitivity to gluten, you should opt for certified gluten-free oats or oat milk to avoid cross-contamination.
Oat milk is also not as naturally nutrient-dense as conventional milk. While an enriched variety is a good source of many of the vitamins and minerals found in milk and can be a suitable substitute for milk in terms of nutrition, making your own oat milk at home may require you to ensure that you’re getting these important vitamins and minerals from other sources in your diet.
Oat Milk Nutrition
Oat milk is relatively low in calories but contains protein and is usually enriched with vitamins and minerals like calcium, riboflavin and vitamin D. Commercial varieties may also contain added ingredients that are used to extend shelf life and enhance flavor. Keep in mind that homemade oat milk nutrition may differ slightly and may be lower in many of the micronutrients that are added by food manufacturers.
One cup of oat milk contains approximately: (121)
- 130 calories
- 24 grams carbohydrates
- 4 grams protein
- 2.5 grams fat
- 2 grams dietary fiber
- 350 milligrams calcium (35 percent DV)
- 0.5 milligram riboflavin (30 percent DV)
- 100 international units vitamin D (25 percent DV)
- 500 international units vitamin A (10 percent DV)
- 1.8 milligrams iron (10 percent DV)
- 115 milligrams sodium (5 percent DV)
Oat Milk vs. Almond Milk vs. Conventional Milk
So how does oat milk measure up against conventional milk, and how does it compare to other popular milk substitutes, such as almond milk?
When it comes to taste and texture, oat milk has a naturally sweet flavor like almond milk and is thin, much like skim milk. Like other nut milks, it’s usually available in several different flavors, such as chocolate or coffee, although it’s also possible to opt for unsweetened and unflavored varieties as well.
In terms of nutrition, oat milk is higher in calories and carbohydrates than almond milk but also contains more protein and fiber. Much like oat varieties, almond milk is often enriched with micronutrients, such as vitamin D and calcium. However, there are some minute differences between the two — almond milk also contains vitamin E, for example, but is lower in riboflavin.
Compared to regular cow’s milk, oat milk is slightly lower in calories but contains nearly double the carbs. Cow’s milk is also higher in protein and rich in many important vitamins and minerals. While many of the micronutrients in oat milk have been added in during processing, conventional milk is a natural source of many nutrients like calcium, riboflavin and vitamin B12.
Additionally, milk from oats is a bit more limited in its potential uses. While both conventional milk and almond milk can be warmed up using moderate heat, oat milk becomes more thick and gelatinous when heated. For this reason, it may not be the ideal choice to use in place of milk for recipes that require heat, such as baked goods or hot beverages.
Oat Milk in Ayurveda and TCM
Oats fit seamlessly into an Ayurvedic diet and are also commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat a variety of conditions.
In particular, oats are often used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to help lower blood pressure, reduce boils and improve stool consistency. Oats are also believed to strengthen the spleen and pancreas as well as help dry dampness to prevent fluid accumulation.
In Ayurveda, oats are used to reduce appetite, promote regularity and increase stamina. They are also believed to have sedative, calming properties and are especially nutrient-dense and nourishing. They can help balance the vata dosha but may aggravate both pitta and kapha doshas depending on how they are prepared.
Where to Find and How to Use Oat Milk
Wondering where to buy oat milk? While it may not be as easy to find as other milk alternatives, such as almond milk or soy milk, it is becoming increasingly available due to its recent rise in popularity. You can usually find it near the other nut milks in the health food section of your local grocery store. You can also find certain oat milk brands through online retailers as well. Be sure to look for an unsweetened variety, and check the ingredients label carefully to pick a product with a minimal amount of added ingredients.
If you’re having difficulty finding oat milk, you can also try making it on your own. Not only does this give you complete control of your ingredients, but it also allows you to make your oat milk unsweetened and free of preservatives. To make your own oat milk, simply soak a cup of oats in water for 30 minutes, then combine with three cups of water and blend in a food processor. Using a cheese cloth or nut milk bag, you can then strain the milk and enjoy.
There are plenty of potential uses for oat milk. You can swap it in for conventional milk in your cereal and overnight oats or use it to whip up certain types of desserts that don’t require cooking, like pudding or ice cream. You can also use it in your favorite beverages and add it to your morning smoothie, latte, tea or coffee. Just be sure to avoid directly heating this milk as it can thicken and develop a gelatinous texture.
Oat Milk Recipes
Looking for some new ways to use oat milk? Here are some oat milk recipe ideas that you can try out to get you started:
- Oat Milk Latte
- Vanilla Oat Milk Tapioca Pudding
- Oat & Cinnamon Milk
- Oat Milk Ice Cream with Grilled Peaches & Honey
Plant-based milk has long been used as an alternative to conventional milk by those with allergies or dietary restrictions, as well as those looking to reduce their consumption of animal products.
For many years, soy milk was the leader in plant-based milk alternatives due to its long shelf life, nutrient density and versatility. However, around 2010, almond milk began growing in popularity and surpassed soy milk as the most popular variety consumed in the United States by 2013. (13)
According to recent data released from Nielsen, plant-based milk products make up about 9.3 percent of all milk sales in the U.S. (14) In addition to soy, oat and almond milk, new varieties, such as hemp milk, coconut milk, rice milk, quinoa milk and hazelnut milk are also available, each providing its own unique set of health benefits and nutrients.
Oat milk can be a healthy lactose-free and vegan alternative to conventional milk, but there are some oat milk negatives that need to be considered as well.
If you have a gluten intolerance or sensitivity, you should be sure to select only oats and milk that are certified gluten-free. This helps prevent cross-contamination to ensure that your milk is completely free of even trace amounts of gluten.
Additionally, while commercial oat milk is enriched with many of the micronutrients found in cow’s milk, homemade oat milk does not contain these same added vitamins and minerals. If making your own, be sure to get these important nutrients from other sources in a well-balanced diet.
When buying oat milk, look for brands that are unsweetened and contain minimal added ingredients. This helps preserve the health benefits and nutritional content and reduces the risk of adverse side effects caused by extra ingredients, like preservatives or additives.
- Oat milk is a popular milk alternative made by blending soaked oats with water and straining out the solids to produce a milk-like beverage. It’s vegan, soy-free, lactose-free and often gluten-free as well.
- Most commercial types of oat milk are enriched with extra vitamins and minerals and provide a good amount of calcium, vitamin D and riboflavin.
- Incorporating oat milk into your diet may help strengthen your bones, boost immunity, lower cholesterol levels and prevent anemia.
- Some of the oat milk disadvantages are that it may contain unhealthy added ingredients and is not always gluten-free. Homemade oat milk may also be lacking in some of the important micronutrients found in milk as well.
- That being said, oat milk provides a unique array of nutrients and can be enjoyed on a healthy, well-rounded diet as a nutritious alternative to conventional milk.
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