Oat milk has recently made a grand entrance on grocery shelves and in coffee shop lattes as the trendiest alternative to cow’s milk. But it’s not the only dairy-free milk option on the market. It has steep competition with other milk products like almond, soy, cashew, and rice. Oat milk is made from whole grain oats blended with water, so what’s with all the fuss? Is it worth the hype?
“When determining which type of dairy or non-dairy milk is the best choice for you, consider what’s most important to you, your diet, and your overall health and wellness goals,” says Dr. Michelle Pearlman, a board-certified gastroenterologist with the University of Miami Health System.
- Are you seeking a low-fat option?
- Are you trying to reduce your sugar and carbohydrate intake?
- Are you counting calories?
- Do you need more calcium, protein, or Vitamin D in your diet?
- What about dietary restrictions like veganism or a soy, nut, or dairy intolerance/allergy?
- Are you managing an autoimmune condition?
Let’s not forget about taste preferences. You and your family may prefer the flavor and texture of one type of milk over the others.
Just like cow’s milk and other dairy-free alternatives, oat milk comes in a few varieties. There’s original/plain, unsweetened (no added sugar), flavored (like vanilla and chocolate, which often have added sugar), organic, and barista blend (made creamier to froth and foam). Each type and brand of plant/nut milk includes different ingredients. So, the amounts of calories, carbohydrates, sugar, fat, vitamins, and minerals vary slightly per product.
Non-Fat Dairy (Skim) Milk Vs. Unsweetened Oat Milk
Let’s say you’re trying to decide between skim milk (cow’s milk) and plain, no-sugar-added oat milk.
In a one-cup serving, dairy milk has approximately 90 calories and 12 grams of carbohydrates that come from naturally occurring sugars (no added sugars). If consuming fewer calories and less sugar is your primary goal, unsweetened oat milk might be the better option because one serving provides 60 calories and 0 grams of sugar.
But, if you want to lower your fat intake while increasing your protein intake, fat-free dairy milk comes out on top with 8 grams of protein, whereas oat milk contains 3 grams of fat and only 1 gram of protein.
What about vitamins and minerals?
When it comes to calcium, these two options are neck and neck. Oat milk provides 35% of the recommended daily value, and skim milk has 25%. Both types of milk contain 15% of your daily Vitamin D needs.
Whole Dairy Milk Vs. Whole Oat Milk
Maybe you’ve never been a fan of skim milk, and your family has been drinking whole milk for generations. Should you make the switch to original, full-fat oat milk?
A one-cup serving of whole dairy milk provides approximately 150 calories, whereas full-fat oat milk comes in at 160 calories—a tiny difference. Whole milk also has 12 grams of carbohydrates and 11 grams of naturally occurring sugars (no added sugars). In this head-to-head competition, oat milk isn’t the best choice, with 15 grams of carbs and 7 grams of added sugars. If you’re concerned about your sugar intake, you should know that added sugars can spike your blood sugar, be converted to fat if you don’t burn them off with physical activity, and trigger hunger.
If you’re more concerned about limiting your fat intake, you should consume both options in moderation. Whole dairy milk has 8 grams of fat, and plain oat milk contains slightly more (9 grams). In this case, the dairy option provides more protein (8 grams), while oat milk has only 3 grams per serving.
When it comes to calcium and Vitamin D, these two options are real contenders. Full-fat oat milk provides 25% of the recommended daily value of calcium, and whole milk has 30%. Cow’s milk includes 15% of your daily Vitamin D needs, whereas oat milk offers slightly more of this essential vitamin (20%).
Other milk alternatives
“If you’re vegan, prefer to avoid dairy, or simply want to shift to a more plant-based diet, there’s a lot of dairy-free milk options beyond oat,” Dr. Pearlman said. These include soy, almond, coconut, rice, cashew, pea protein, and hemp milk. “To determine which one is the best choice for you and your family, review the same set of considerations. Take the time to identify which nutritional values are important to you and your specific nutrition goals, food intolerances, and taste preferences.”
Curious about making your own non-dairy milk? It’s quite easy. There are many simple recipes online that detail how to soak the oats or nuts in water overnight properly. Then blend it, strain it, and chill it. Enjoy this additive- and preservative-free beverage in cereal, coffee, and smoothies.
Dana Kantrowitz is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.
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