If you were to ask me a couple of years ago if we’d be enthusiastic about drinking milk made from oats and water that had been blended together and then strained, I’d flatly say not one bit. Well, currently there isn’t just enthusiasm over oat milk, there’s pure exuberance. It’s the hottest alternative milk on the market right now with no signs of slowing down. You’ll find it in a growing number of coffee shops and grocery stores these days — Trader Joe’s even started selling its own version — and plenty of DIYers are making it themselves.
So what’s actually the deal with oat milk and does deserve all its praise? Here are the facts:
How is Oat Milk Made and What Does It Taste Like?
Oat milk’s story began in Sweden, where a company called Oatly figured out how to make a non-dairy milk by grinding oats with water, adding natural enzymes to break down the oats’ starch, then straining the product. It didn’t make its way across the pond until a few years ago but its naturally sweet flavor and rich and creamy mouthfeel were an easy sell. It tastes as close to cows milk as you’re probably going to get and even froths well, which is why coffee shops have welcomed it with open arms as an alternative to other non-dairy options in lattes and other milk-heavy drinks.
What About Its Nutrition?
Depending on the brand, one cup of oat milk contains about 120 calories, 5 grams of fat (mostly unsaturated), 16 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of sugar, 2 grams of protein, and 2 grams of fiber. It’s higher in calories that a lot of other alternative milks — in comparison, the average unsweetened almond milk contains about 30 calories per cup — but quite similar to 2% cow’s milk, which contains about 122 calories in one cup.
It’s also higher in carbohydrates when compared to almond milk (1 cup of almond milk contains about 1 gram of carbohydrates) and generally higher in sugar because even though it’s unsweetened, some of the starch in the oats are converted to sugar. However, it’s also higher in fiber than most alternative milks, has a little more protein than some alternative milks like almond and coconut, and is relatively low in fat.
So is It Healthy?
It depends on what healthy looks like for you. When I spoke with Alana Fiorentino, who is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator based in New York City she agreed: “Oat milk can be a great option for vegans and people who are allergic to dairy or nuts (compared to other non-dairy milks). It’s one of the only non-dairy milks that contains a fair amount of fiber and it is easier on the environment compared to almond milk.” If you’re on a strict low-carbohydrate diet like Keto, are insulin sensitive, or are watching the amount of carbs in your diet, oat milk is not be the best choice. Also, while oats are naturally gluten-free, some can be contaminated with gluten, so if you’re following a strict gluten-free diet, you’ll want to double check the oat milk you’re buying is labeled as such.
However, if you’re less restricted and you’d like an easy way to get a bit of extra fiber in the morning, it may be a good option for you. “In my own personal opinion, it has a much creamier texture and probably one of the tastiest non-dairy options out there,” says Alana. “The texture more closely resembles cow’s milk so it’s a much easier transition for people adding more plant-based foods to their diet.” It’s the closest you’ll probably get to cow’s milk in your coffee and a rich flavor and mouth-feel, so depending on your health needs and goals, it can indeed be part of a healthy diet.
All this goes to say one of the best things you can do for your health is to understand what you need to feel healthy. From there, you’ll be able to navigate questions around the new foods and items that will continue to pop up.