What’s The Deal With Oat Milk? Is It Healthy Or Not?

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Before we get into the nitty gritty behind this explosive new (ish) health trend, let’s begin with this semi-insane fact:

There. Is. Now. An. Oat milk. Finder. Website.

Yes. It’s called Oatfinder. And it’s the brainchild of Oatly, the main oat milk supplier in the country. It helps consumers track down where to purchase this beloved elixir de rigueur, and because of this handy little tool, keeping Oatly stocked is becoming near impossible and causing baristas to break out into a light rash each time they have to tell a customer they’ve run out of oat milk for the day.

Though with a growing number of makers of oat milk – Oatly, Califa Farms, Mooala, Planet Oat, Pacific Foods, Dream, Silk, and Thrive Market (which not only makes its own plant-based drinks but is an online marketplace for their competitor’s products alongside their own)—your options are becoming more abundant by the day.

With demand so high, smaller coffee shops are struggling to keep up. And because of this frenzy, huge outlets like Peet’s Coffee and Starbucks are scrambling to meet the en-masse demand of their voracious customers, as the rate of oat milk production has yet to keep pace with American consumption. Since they still want in on the action, they’re slowly stocking oat milk in as many stores as they can.

Clearly, the public is loving oat milk’s creamy, frothy, non-dairy goodness, as well as its relatively low environmental impact; oat milk is much more eco-friendly than regular dairy milk and requires less water during production than almond milk. But while we’re pouring it into our coffee by the gallon, we have to ask—are all these oaty carbs just turning into sugar and sneakily making us gain weight?

Do we really want the truth?

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What Is Oat Milk, Like Specifically?

Oat milk is a plant-based, dairy-free, milk-alternative made of whole oats and water. The ingredients are so simple that making your own batch is, in theory, “easy”—assuming you’re handy with cheesecloth and have a spare few hours to devote to laboratory-level experiments, which include soaking whole oats in water for anywhere from 30 minutes to overnight, blending them, and pouring the mixture through a very fine colander or cheesecloth to separate the solids from the liquid. From there, you can get creative by adding cinnamon, vanilla extract, or nutmeg. See? So easy! But the reality is, 99.9999% of us will not be doing this “easy” process, and most of us will be purchasing it ready-made. So, are these cartons and cartons of oat milk we’re buying….actually good for us?

Is Oat Milk Healthy? JUST TELL ME.

Annoyingly, the answer depends on how and why you drink oat milk. But to sum it up…it’s fine? Oat milk is probably not going to cure any diseases or help you magically grow abs overnight, but it’s a perfectly good alternative to milk and other non-dairy milks, with its own set of benefits and drawbacks that vary per brand and ingredients.

Here’s the good news; oats are a great source of protein and minerals, and have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels. Oats are also extremely high in fiber, which slows down the release of sugar into the bloodstream, making Oat Milk a healthy alternative for those with diabetes.

If you’re simply looking for a milk-alternative to splash into your morning coffee that’s vegan, soy-free, and nut-free, then you may not care how many vitamins, nutrients, or calories are crammed into a few ounces of oat milk. If you want to reap the benefits of the wholesomeness of the oats, then you can make your own at home, and not worry about any additives or flavorings.

But if your morning alt-milk latte is one of your favorite sources of vitamins and nutrients, then surprisingly, store-bought is your best bet as oat milk manufacturers like Oatly add vitamins A, B12, and D2, calcium, and riboflavin.

If you want to lose weight or just maintain a healthy weight, oat milk won’t exactly make you pack on the pounds, but it’s also not the most slimming alt-milk. Oat milk has slightly more carbs, fats, and calories than alternative milks like almond milk, and a similar nutritional profile to coconut milk. But since carbohydrates get broken down into sugar, you’re not getting a completely sugar-free drink.

Even though the sugar in unsweetened oat milk is naturally occurring (don’t even get us started on the sugar-bomb flavored varieties), we all know how too much sugar can lead to weight gain. So, if you’re trying to cut out carbs and lose weight, unsweetened almond milk still might be your best bet.

Carbs aren’t fully the axis of evil, though; the carbs in oat milk will break down into glucose and turned into energy. Once glucose is formed, the body can use the glucose for energy or turn it into glycogen, a substance found in the liver and muscles. And if there’s still more left over, which means you’ve taken in more carbs than you can burn, it gets converted to fat.

So just like anything with naturally occurring carbs, fats, and sugars, you don’t want to overdo it.

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So, What’s Up With All The Oil?

Though oat milk seems like it would be made of a perfect combination of only the most gorgeously filtered water on the planet and the healthiest organic oats in existence, the second ingredient in most store-bought Oat Milk is oil, usually canola/rapeseed or sunflower.

Oil is a common additive in oat milk that increases nutritional fats and improves the texture. Unfortunately, this is what makes Oat Milk so rich and highly frothable (and therefore, delicious). As baristas worldwide will attest to, almond milk has fallen out of favor because unlike oat milk, almond milk is too thin for a good foam, making latte art so difficult and so deeply uninstagrammable.

Canola oil, also known as culinary rapeseed oil (as opposed to industrial rapeseed oil; and why, god, why the name rapeseed?) is actually a pretty good source of vitamin E, is low in saturated fat (the bad fat) and is high in mono- and polyunsaturated fat (the good fats).

The bad news? Rapeseed oil, which canola oil derives from, is typically high in erucic acid, which in the 1970s was linked to heart problems. In the U.S., for an oil to be classified as “canola,” and not “rapeseed,” no more than 2% of its fatty acid profile can come from erucic acid (so canola oil should have less of the stuff linked to heart problems). In other parts of the world though, these oil names are used interchangeably, and both can be found in oat milk. Meaning sometimes, you might be getting the healthier “canola” oil, and other times, you’ll be getting the less-healthy “rapeseed.”

Oatly claims to use only non-GMO canola oil, which is arguably better than traditional rapeseed oil. Unfortunately, whether either of these oils will have negative, long-term effects on your health is still up for debate.

If this science-y discussion of canola oil, rapeseed oil, and erucic acid (which are all very unpleasant words) is turning you off your oat milk habit for good, don’t fret—it’s possible to find plenty of oat milk labels with just oats and water (and sometimes salt, too). Like this one from Trader Joe’s—hallelujah!

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Is Oat Milk Allergen-Free?

If you have a tree nut allergy, then the last few years of nut milk has probably been a frustrating time for you. Since allergies are a huge nightmare to live with, we’re thrilled to report that oat milk isn’t associated with any of the major allergens. Those allergic to dairy or lactose are obviously in the clear. Oat Milk is safe for basically everyone, as allergic reactions to oats are rare. In the event of an allergic reaction, however, it is commonly because of a protein found in oats called avenin.

What about gluten, though? For those with celiac disease, oats do not typically contain gluten. But since other gluten products can occasionally contaminate oats if they are processed in the same factory, you’ll probably want to double check to make sure the oat milk carton is labeled as “gluten-free” or “no gluten.”

Where’s The Oat Milk Trend Heading? 

For the near future, the answer to that question is up.

Sales for traditional dairy products are declining, while alternative milk choices are on the uptick. Between 2015 and 2018, American consumers spent $4.13 billion less on milk, while the dairy-alternative beverage businesses steadily rose. In fact, at the beginning of 2019, their sales reached $1.7 billion. It will be interesting to see what happens because although Almond Milk is lower in calories, carbs, and fat, it looks like it may get left in Oat Milk’s dust.

Our fave, and in fact The Best Oat Milk for your casual, “in the home” Oat Milk– one that tastes great in a simple iced coffee with no sugar, no added oil, and which froths up nicely in coffee and matcha lattes– is Planet Oat Original Unsweetened. Most coffee shops use Oatly “barista” blend, or Califa Farms, both of which are SO creamy and SO delicious, we feel wildly suspicious about their health benefits, and instead, choose to view these treats like an ice cream cone.

Or, as we say to our kids, a sometimes food.

[Article first published by The Candidly.]

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Tamara Jefferies MA is a freelance wellness writer and holistic counselor/coach based in Long Beach, CA. She has worked in the wellness field since 2005 and holds a Master’s in Somatic Psychology from John F. Kennedy University, several certifications in the specialization of trauma and trauma resolution, and is a certified yoga teacher and holistic practitioner offering transformational counseling to women.

Writing on topics that help women heal, grow, and live fulfilled and happy lives is her passion as is writing for wellness businesses, publications, and brands. She is a regular contributing writer to the wellness brand, The Candidly, and a Brand Ambassador to ADORAtherapy.

Contact her at info@growandthrivewellness.com for all your wellness writing or counseling needs.

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Be Well!

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