Oat Milk: How Does this Plant Based Milk Stack Up?
Going dairy free, vegan or plant based has never been easier. The abundance of plant milk options in grocery store cases and on coffee shop menus provides a case in point. Options include rice, coconut, almond, cashew, soy, macadamia nut and now the growing-in-popularity oat milk. And why is oat milk growing in popularity? In short, it’s trendy, it’s the newest kid on the block and its creaminess lends well to superior frothing in your latte.
So which plant based milk do you choose? Certainly taste preference plays a major role, but for those questioning which provides the most nutrition let’s take a closer look at oat milk and a few popular options.
Unsweetened original is the lowest calorie option (30 calories per cup) of all the milks investigated here. It is fortified with calcium (45% Daily Value – this is more than what is found in cow’s milk) and vitamin D (25% DV). Percent daily value ranges are different across brands. Almond milk only contains 1 gram of protein per 1 cup serving.
Silk Unsweetened Almond Milk: 30 calories, 2.5g of fat, 1g carbohydrate, <1g fiber, 1g protein, 45% calcium, 25% vitamin D
Benefit unique to almond milk: 20% vitamin E
A good alternative to individuals with nut, soy or dairy allergies, unsweetened coconut milk comes in at 45 calories per cup and 4-5 grams of fat. The fat from coconut milk is in the form of medium chain triglycerides (MCT’s) which are most known for their brain boosting and performance boosting benefits. Coconut milk contains no protein. Some brands are fortified more than others and calcium content ranges from 0-45% DV while vitamin D ranges from 0-10% DV. Always check your labels.
So Delicious Organic Unsweetened Coconut Milk: 45 calories, 4.5g fat, 1g carbohydrate, 0g fiber, 0g protein, 10% calcium, 30% vitamin D
Soy milk shares a nutrient profile most similar to cow’s milk, but with less sugar, less fat and less calories. It also contains nearly 50% of the recommended value of B12, a nutrient of concern for vegans. However, soy comes with another set of considerations such as sourcing. With 90% of soy crops being genetically modified (GMO) it is worth it to consider purchasing from an organic source that is non-GMO.
Silk Organic Unsweetened Soy Milk: 80 calories, 4g fat, 3g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 7g protein, 20% calcium, 15% vitamin D
Oat milk is another great option for those who suffer from dairy, nut and/or soy allergies. Individuals with gluten intolerance or celiac should beware because while oats are naturally gluten free they are often processed on shared equipment with wheat. If in question, look for the gluten free label or make your own oat milk at home using certified gluten free oats. More on that later.
Oat milk is certainly higher in calories (~130g/cup) and carbohydrates (~20g/cup), but contains more protein and fiber than other plant based milks. Oat milk is enriched with nutrients such as potassium, vitamin D and calcium just like its plant based milk counterparts. Oats, and oat milk, are also a good source of the soluble fiber, beta glucans, touted for lowering cholesterol. Oat milk can also have upwards of 10% DV of iron, a mineral to be aware of in vegans and vegetarians.
Oatly Oat Milk Original: 120 calories, 5g fat, 16g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 2g protein, 35% calcium, 40% vitamin D
Buyer Beware and other considerations:
Always make sure to check the ingredients panel for unnecessary additives. Recently I was at a coffee shop and asked for oat milk to add to my coffee. I was floored when they handed me the container and I saw that the milk contained canola oil (highly refined and proinflammatory)! Upon further research I learned that canola or rapeseed oil is added to oat milk as an emulsifier. Other additives to look include “natural” flavors, artificial sweeteners, preservatives and thickening agents which can be hidden in any plant milk.
A final word of caution, the Environmental Working Group uncovered that oats contain glyphosate…the active ingredient found in Roundup and is a by-product of oat crops that have been sprayed with the notorious weed killer. You may remember a popular topic in the news media connecting glyphosate to popular oat-containing breakfast cereals. The bad news, the EWG found glyphosate in almost all oat-based products sampled in an October 2018 study including 33% of organically grown oats tested.1 The good news, the glyphosate levels were much lower in organically grown oats and well below benchmark levels. Moral of the story? If you still choose oat milk I would opt for the organically sourced variety.
Ways to add more protein to your dairy free milk:
If you are not vegan you may opt to add collagen to your milk which easily dissolves and is virtually flavorless. A vegan option would be to blend hemp seeds into your plant based milk (no straining necessary thereby preserving all of the nutrients). Hemp provides 3 grams of protein per tablespoons plus the added benefit of omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids. Hemp seed also makes a great whole food protein alternative to protein powders in smoothies.
It all boils down to label reading. Additives and nutrition information vary across brands. If it is calcium and vitamin D or even iron and B12 you are interested in then compare labels. Also, beware of the additives I mentioned above. Not one of the plant based milk alternatives is superior across the boards. If you are watching calories or carbohydrates then almond milk would be the better alternative. Alternatively, a homemade oat milk could be a great whole food, fiber-containing alternative. As for me, I choose to stick to an organic, unsweetened almond milk or a homemade alternative.
Easy Oat Milk Recipe
1 cup gluten free rolled oats
4 cups filtered water
pinch of salt
Optional add-in’s: dates, cinnamon, vanilla
Tools: high speed blender, nut milk bag*
Add ingredients to a high speed blender. Blend until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Strain through a nut milk bag or cheesecloth. Refrigerate and use within 7 days.
*NOTE: I use Ellie’s Best Bigger and Better Nut Milk bag. Order here and use code wholly for 10% off your entire purchase.
To watch a video tutorial of the process visit my instagram page @whollynourishedrd