Should we really be avoiding the coolest alt-milk on the block?

oat milk
You asked: Is oat milk actually bad for you?Oatly

‘What do you want to drink?’ my friend asks me as we stumble out of at 8 am Reformer Pilates class and fall into the nearest coffee shop. ‘Cappuccino, please,’ I reply.

‘Is that with, er, normal, milk?’ she asks.

‘Yep, just normal cow’s milk,’ I say.

It’s not an unusual question – you can barely walk into any coffee shop in London without the barista double-checking what kind of milk you’d like. But what was unusual was her response.

‘Urgh, I’m trying to ween myself off oat milk,’ she says – before then preceding to order an oat vanilla matcha latte. ‘I keep seeing things online that say oat milk spikes your glucose, so I know I need to stop drinking it. Another milk I can no longer drink, it’s ridiculous.’

And she’s right, it is ridiculous. Ever since the actor Drea Valls posted a video last month – in which she does her best ‘mob wife’ impression, pretending to be ‘cow’s milk when she hears you’ve quit oat’ – I’ve seen a flurry of people posting about how, the once trendy dairy alternative, has become the next target on the ever-growing list of so-called ‘bad’ foods.

‘Well, well, well, look who’s come crawling back,’ Valls says in the video – which has over 1 million views, ‘had enough of her spiking your glucose have ya.’

I call it the Glucose Goddess effect. Which, for those who don’t know, is the name the French biochemist and writer Jessie Inchauspé goes by. She regularly posts graphs on her Instagram account, offering her wide-eyed 3.4 million followers information on the importance of blood sugar and ‘glucose hacks’ to manage it. Her latest hack? Avoid oat milk.

‘Oat milk comes from oats, and oats are a grain, and grains are starch. When you’re [drinking] oat milk, you’re [drinking] starch juice. You’re [drinking] juice with a lot of glucose in it. So it leads to a big glucose spike,’ Inchauspé recently said on an interview with American entrepreneur Marie Forleo that’s racked up 4.6 million views on TikTok.

‘If you have milk that comes from a cow, that’s mostly protein and fat,’ she says. ‘If you have milk that comes from a nut, that’s also very, very low in starch. Those are better options in terms of glucose-balancing properties. If you’re having oat milk because you think it’s healthier, just switch. Go back to whole milk or have some unsweetened nut milk.’

So, is oat milk actually bad for you? We caught up with a couple of expert nutritionists and dieticians to sort fact from fiction...

Firstly, what is oat milk?

Oat milk is, well, exactly what it sounds like: a non-dairy, vegan milk substitute made from oats. At its most basic form, oat milk is made of oats and water blended together, then strained to create a smooth, creamy liquid. Some brands fortify theirs with extra vitamins and minerals (or add flavours and sweeteners).

‘Oat milk is lactose-free, smooth, and naturally creamy but not overkill sweet,’ says registered dietician Judith Dodd, assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

‘Its texture is great for lattes, and it doesn’t separate when mixed with hot beverages like many non-diary milks do,’ adds registered dietician Kelly Jones.

Is oat milk nutritious?

Nutrition labels vary between brands, so not all oat milks are created equal. Some, for example, have more sugar than others, depending on added flavours and other factors.

Here’s an example of what you’ll get in one cup of full-fat Oatly oat milk:

  • Calories: 160

  • Fat: 9 g

  • Saturated fat: 1 g

  • Protein: 3 g

  • Carbohydrates: 15 g

  • Sugars: 7 g

  • Fibre: 2 g

You’ll also get around 25 per cent of your recommended calcium intake per cup, and about 50 per cent of your daily recommended intake of Vitamin B12. Again, those numbers vary per brand based on how the milk is fortified.

According to Dodd, some oat milks also contain small amounts of plant oils – such as canola oil – which are heart-healthy unlike the saturated fats found in dairy milk. Plus, oat milk is generally free of allergens like soy and nuts, making it a good dairy-free alternative if you have food allergies. Oats are also usually gluten-free, although you should still check the label before purchasing if you have Celiac disease or another kind of gluten intolerance.

In general, registered dietician Sandra Grant, says that oat milk usually has less sodium per cup than other non-dairy choices. For example, soy milk has around 124 mg of sodium per cup, and almond milk has 186 mg per cup, compared to oat milk's 100 mg.

According to Dodd, oat milk is higher in fibre than dairy, soy, and almond milk at two grams per cup (compared to soy’s 1.5 grams per cup, and dairy milk and almond milk’s zero grams per cup).

‘But it’s lower in protein than dairy milk, with one to four grams a cup, while dairy milk has about eight grams a cup,’ says Jones, ‘and there might be sugar added in a few brands, so check the label to make sure that's not the case.’

Nutrition aside, the reason you opt for a certain type of milk or alternative is almost as important as what’s in it: ‘[Is it] something to add to your coffee or tea, add to your cereal, enjoy as a beverage or smoothie? Use in a recipe? Oat milk seems to have a lot of advantages,’ says Dodd.

So is oat milk bad for you? And will it spike your blood glucose levels?

You may have noticed the influx of claims online at the moment, saying that oat milk is bad for glucose levels and causes glucose spikes – but is it true?

As mentioned above, oats contain carbohydrates that are broken down into sugars. And, yes, compared to some other plant-based milks, oat milk is higher in these carbohydrates, points out Rosie Martin, a registered dietitian at Plant Based Health Professionals. ‘However, it is important to recognise that blood sugar changes are a normal part of the digestive process, and oat milk is often consumed as part of a meal that contains other components, such as fibre and protein (for example, nuts, seeds, fruit), which results in a lower overall change in blood sugars.

‘Blood sugar changes are only one aspect of a foods’ impact on the body. Oat milk is also rich in unsaturated fatty acids and contains a variety of bioactive components as well as dietary fibre, which supports an overall reduction in disease,’ she adds.

How do I use oat milk?

Think of oat milk as the tofu of milks. It has a neutral taste that works well in a lot of different foods. Try baking with it, stirring it in your coffee, or cooking other grains in it, suggests Cheryl Mitchell, a food scientist at Elmhurst Milked.

And if you want to really double down on your oats, Mitchell recommends pouring oat milk on top of your porridge. ‘This gives a double benefit of the soluble fibres and nutrition, and keeps your digestive tract in great shape,’ she says.

According to Dodd, it’s crucial to check the expiration date on all cartons before consuming. Once opened (even if it’s shelf-stable), refrigerate it right away.

What are the best oat milk brands to buy?

‘When you are choosing your oat milk, opt for one that is unsweetened,’ says Martin. ‘Plant milks that are fortified are an easy way to meet calcium requirements, so it is wise to choose one with added calcium to support bone health. If you prefer to have one that is organic –which will have fewer ingredients and no added vitamins or minerals – then you should make sure you’re getting calcium from alternative food sources instead. ’

If you’re eager to experiment, these are the best oat milk brands on the market, according to RDs, so you can be sure it’ll taste great and have a good list of nutrient-dense ingredients.

1. Califia Farms Oat Barista Blend

‘Califia Farms Oat Barista Blend is the most desirable texture for coffee-based beverages and steams wonderfully in a creamy latte,’ says Jones. It contains no added sugar and is naturally sweet. ‘This oat milk is made with gluten-free oats and also contains no gums or stabilisers,’ she says.

Per serving: 130 calories, 7 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 105 mg sodium, 14 g carbs, 0 g fibre, 3 g sugar, 1 g protein

2. Oatly Low Fat Oat Milk

‘An oat milk with very simple ingredients, this one from Oatly is available at most supermarkets. You can choose between this low-fat version or their full-fat oat milk, (higher in unsaturated fat) which is extra creamy for frothing into coffee,’ says Maggie Michalczyk, RD. ‘P.S. They also make chocolate oat milk and oat milk non-dairy ice cream if you're jumping on the oat train full force,’ she says.

Per serving: 90 calories, 1 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 100 sodium, 16 g carbs, 2 g fibre, 7 g sugar, 3 g protein

3. MOMA Barista Oat Drink Unsweetened

With no added sugar, MOMA Barista oat milk is unsweetened and never made from concentrate. Plus, it has been fortified with calcium, iodine and vitamins D3, B2 and B12.

Per serving: 54 calories, 2.1 g fat (0.2 g saturated fat), 7.8 g carbs, 0.5 g fibre, 4 g sugar, 1 g protein

How to make oat milk:

If you fancy making oat milk at home yourself, here’s how:

  1. Pick your oats. Old-fashioned or rolled oats are likely to blend more easily, compared to say, steel-cut oats. ‘You may want to be sure that the oats used are labelled gluten-free if there are health issues for Celiac or wheat allergies,’ says Dodd. While she says oats are naturally gluten-free, there can be cross-contamination if wheat or rye are processed in the same equipment or air space, where grain dust in the air is likely to be present.

  2. Soak the oats. This isn’t necessary if you’re using a high-speed blender, but if your blender is on the weaker side, soak them in the refrigerator for three to four hours, she says.

  3. Strain and squeeze. Dodd says to pour the mixture in a nut milk bag or cheesecloth and squeeze it into a durable container like a mason jar.

  4. Repurpose the leftovers. Once there’s no more liquid coming from the nut bag or cheesecloth, Dodd says you can either compost the oat pulp or use it as fibre-rich mulch.

  5. Consume. Always shake the mixture before using it to guarantee a smoother texture. Dodd says to feel free to add your favourite type of sweetener or vanilla extract.

  6. Store it safely. Store-bought brands are shelf stable until opened, then last seven to 10 days after opening in the refrigerator (depending on the package expiration date). But homemade oat milk only lasts two to three days (at most) in your fridge so it’s best enjoyed ASAP.

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