What Is Oat Milk and Is It Healthy?
This frothy dairy-free alternative is making a name for itself at your local coffee house.
Nondairy milk may have begun as a lactose-free alternative for vegans or nondairy eaters, but the rise in popularity can be attributed to much more than being a must-have swap. The options are endless: almond milk, soy milk, hemp milk, rice milk, and more. But there's a new kid on the block that's getting a lot of attention from nutritionists and foodies alike: oat milk. "Almost all nondairy beverages may be 'hot' right now because of the interest in plant-based diets," says Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., C.L.T., author of The Small Change Diet. Oat milk is particularly accessible, as it's cheaper to make than nut milk and may be more environmentally friendly, explains registered dietitian Kelly R. Jones M.S., L.D.N.
So, what is oat milk exactly?
Oat milk consists of steel-cut oats or whole groats that are soaked in water, blended, and then strained with a cheesecloth or a special nut milk bag. "While the leftover oat pulp has the bulk of the fiber and most of the protein in the oats, the liquid or 'milk' that results does have some of the nutrients in oats, says Jones. "Because oats absorb water more easily than nuts, when blended well enough, more of the food itself winds up passing through the cheesecloth, giving a creamier texture than nut milk without added ingredients."
What are the health benefits of oat milk?
Oat milk is a good choice for anyone who is allergic or intolerant to dairy and/or nuts, as well as those looking to limit saturated fat in their diets," says Jones. It's even safe, generally, for people who have a gluten intolerance. You just must read labels. "If you have a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, you'll want to be sure it was made with certified gluten-free oats," says Jones.
"While oats are gluten-free in nature, they're often processed on the same equipment as gluten-containing grains, which contaminates the oats with gluten enough to cause a reaction in those with celiac or a serious intolerance," she says.
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Here's how oat milk nutrition measure up to other varieties of dairy and plant-based milk. "One cup serving of oat milk provides 130 calories, 2.5g total fat, 0g saturated fats, 2 grams fiber, 4 grams protein, 35 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for calcium, and 25 percent for vitamin D," says Gans. "Compared to cow's milk and soy milk it has less protein; however, compared to other plant-based beverages, e.g., almond, cashew, coconut, and rice, it has more protein."
Plus, oat milk is the clear winner when it comes to fiber. "Cow's milk has 0g fiber, almond and soy have 1 gram of fiber per serving—so oat milk with 2 grams of fiber is the highest," she adds.
"Oats also contain the B vitamins thiamin and folate, the minerals magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, and copper, as well as a variety of other vitamins and minerals in trace amounts," says Jones.
Oat milk does tend to be higher in carbohydrates, but that's OK because it's providing energy through these carbs and fiber opposed to fat, which can typically be the case with most nut milks, says Jones.
How can you drink and use oat milk?
Beyond a thicker consistency, the slightly sweet flavor of oat milk is pretty great too. "Its creaminess makes it popular to drink, like in lattes and cappuccinos. It can also be used in smoothies, creamy soups, and baked goods," says Gans. (Try it for yourself: Elmhurst Milked Oats, $5; elmhurst1925.com)
You can also use it in the same way you might use cow's milk or other plant-based milk when cooking. "You can use oat milk as your liquid in pancakes and waffles or in place of regular milk when making mashed potatoes or casseroles," says Jones. While you might not want to down a glass of oat milk every day, it could be a great dairy-free milk that's easy on the stomach and provides an immediate source of pre-workout energy.