Not too long ago, the only kind of milk you could pour into your coffee came from cows. Then an influx of plant-based milks hit the market—from almond and cashew milk to pea milk, soy milk, and flax milk. These non-dairy milks keep spiking in popularity, as more consumers are opting to reduce or eliminate animal products from their meals.
The latest alt-milk on store shelves? Oat milk. Frothier, more full-bodied, and more similar in taste to the cow kind than the others, oat milk is having a moment—if the onslaught of oat milk latte and smoothie posts is any indication.
But what exactly is oat milk? Is it even healthy—and should you drink it or put it in your food? We asked two nutrition pros to weigh in.
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What oat milk is
Oat milk is exactly what it sounds like: a dairy-free milk alternative that is made from oats. “At its purest and most basic form, oat milk is made by blending oats and water together—usually in the ratio of 1 cup of oats to ¾ cup of water—and straining it to create a liquid,” says Jim White, RDN, exercise physiologist, and owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios in Virginia. Some brands fortify their oat milk with vitamins and minerals. It's also not uncommon to see added sugar, salt, preservatives, and fillers on the ingredients list.
The health benefits of oat milk
“From a nutrition perspective, oat milk is a healthy choice,” says Keri Gans MS, RDN and owner of Keri Gans Nutrition in New York City. One cup of Oatly Oat Milk ($6; amazon.com)—which is a good baseline for comparison because it’s made only from oats, water, sea salt, and less than 2% of rapeseed oil and vitamin and other additives—has 120 calories, 5 grams total fat, 16 grams of carbs, 2 grams of fiber, 7 grams of sugar (from the oats, not added), and 3 grams protein.
With 3 grams of protein per 8-ounce serving, oat milk is higher in protein than other popular unsweetened alternative milks, such as almond milk, cashew milk, coconut milk, and rice milk—all of which contain basically no protein. (Soy milk, pea protein milk, and dairy milk come out ahead, with 8 grams of protein per serving in each type.)
Oat milk also has one of the highest heart-healthy fiber content of all milk products, says Gans, with more fiber than 1 cup of 1% cow milk, which has no fiber at all. Though 2 grams of fiber might not seem like much, the recommended daily amount of fiber for adult women is 25 grams, and every bit counts. “Fiber is important because it provides health benefits such as blood glucose regulation, binding of cholesterol, healthy bowel movements, and feeling of satiety,” adds White.
Other benefits: Oat milk provides about one third of your recommended daily beta glucan intake; these are sugars that may help keep cholesterol levels in check. You'll also get about 25% of your daily recommended calcium intake per cup and about 20% of your recommended vitamin D intake if you opt for a fortified brand.
Things to know about oat milk
Oat milk tends to be higher in calories than other options. For example, oat milk contains 120 to 130 calories per serving compared to unsweetened almond milk’s 40, 1% cow’s milk’s 100, and unsweetened soy milk’s 80. And with 16 grams of carbs per serving, it has a higher carb content than a serving of those as well, which is worth noting if you eat keto or are on another low-carb diet. (To put oat milk’s 16 grams of carbs into perspective, a medium-size apple has 25 gram of carbs.)
Oat milk is also a good alternative for people with lactose, nut, and gluten allergies. However, if you’re truly gluten-free, White recommends reading the brand's label. “As a general rule, oats are gluten-free. But the problem is that most oats are processed in factories with gluten. So if you have Celiac disease, check to see that the product was made with certified gluten-free oats,” he says.
All the ways you can use it
Oat milk's nutritional profile is reason enough to add it to your cart. But it also tastes good and is super versatile. The thicker-than-soy-milk texture makes it a good option for coffee, especially lattes. You can also cook with oat milk and use it in recipes the same way you'd use cow's milk or another plant-based alt-milk.
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