Oat milk is a handy and delectable substitute to cow’s milk and can be found in many non-dairy goods and dishes for those who are lactose sensitive, vegan, or simply enjoy the flavor. We couldn’t help but question if the popular item is becoming too fashionable and omnipresent (you’ve probably tried it in your coffee by now). Worth the hype, and if there might be any potential drawbacks to drinking it frequently.
We spoke with Suzanne Fisher, MS, RD, LDN, creator of Women’s Cycling Nutrition and Fisher Nutrition Systems, and Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD, registered dietician at Balance One Supplements. Continue reading for expert advice and to learn more about why wheat milk has advantages when taken in limits and significant negative effects when not.
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The Main Drawback of Heavy Oat Milk Consumption— A Lack of Protein
While oat milk is not innately harmful for you (it is high in fiber and cholesterol free), Fisher says that the real risk is depending on it and not drinking other plant-based milks with greater protein amounts in your diet.
“People love oat milk for its creamy consistency and low allergen profile,” Fisher says, “but there are some nutritional drawbacks.” She claims that oat milk is “lacking in terms of protein content per serving” when compared to other plant-based dairy alternatives.
“A 1-cup serving typically contains 3 to 4 grams of protein, versus 8 grams in flax or even cow’s milk,” she says. Fisher contends that oat milk may not be the best option for people seeking for a more fair replacement for dairy milk.
“While oats have obvious health benefits and have been shown to improve lipid levels and stabilize blood sugar,” she adds, “the jury is still out on whether oat milk provides the effect.” She recommends fortified wheat milk as an excellent supply of calcium and vitamin D, both of which are necessary for strong, healthy bones.
Apart from a dearth of protein, another thing to look for in oat milk for anyone on a gluten-free diet is whether the cereals within it are gluten-free. “Be cautious if gluten-free oat was used during processing if you’re on a gluten-free diet,” Fisher warns, adding that sweetened oat milk includes additional sugar sources to be weary of as well.
Best concurs, adding that anyone with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity should avoid wheat milk. “One disadvantage is that, unlike other milk alternatives, oat milk may not be gluten free,” she adds. “This is because, while oats are naturally gluten-free, some are processed in facilities that also produce gluten-containing products.” As a result, Best cautions that cross poisoning may occur, which can be detrimental to those suffering from celiac disease.
Best also claims that wheat milk is “higher in carbohydrates than other dairy milk alternatives.” The calorie amount is around “15 grams of carbohydrates per serving” because it is derived from a cereal rather than a seed or other plant. This is “significantly high,” she says, given that plain almond milk usually contains only 1 gram of carbohydrates.
Overall, Fisher emphasizes that it is more about the sort of oat milk you choose, recommending to choose a plain form (check the components to be sure) and to avoid chemically colored oat milk. Unsweetened varieties, she says, “may also show some added sugar on the food label, despite having no sugar listed on the ingredient list.”
When creating this type of milk, enzymes are used to break down the oats, resulting in “sugar, Maltose, a high glycemic sugar that is responsible for the oat milk’s sweet taste,” she adds. Fisher finds that this sugar may “raise blood sugar, a problem that can be mitigated by combining oat milk with other nutrient-dense foods, such as high-fiber cereal or even cooked oats.”
While you don’t have to give up your beloved oat milk completely, Fisher suggests consuming it in restraint and creating space in your diet for other plant-based milks. Almond milk, for example, is lower in caloric and carbohydrate content than cow’s milk. Soy milk is high in protein (as are the legumes from which it is produced) and can be used in place of cow’s milk. Illuminate Health’s DJ Mazzoni RD, MS, CSCS, CDN suggests hemp milk, which she says is “more nutritionally dense than oat milk” and “contains omega-3 fatty acids that are associated with improved health outcomes and are missing in the diet of many Americans.” Overall, health experts agree that while oat milk is acceptable in limits, it will not provide you with enough protein on its own, and consulting your doctor can help you construct a diet that best fits your specific requirements.