Is oat milk healthy? A nutritionist explains the health benefits

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  • As plant based milk alternatives increase in popularity, many are wondering if oat milk is healthy and what advantages it can bring to your body.

    Oat milk has been flying off the shelves in recent years with British supermarket Waitrose reporting an 113 per cent increase in sales in 2020 alone. But whilst we’re aware of the health benefits of oats, do oats in a milk-based alternative necessarily make us any healthier?

    As Jessica Overfield, a BSc nutritionist at BrandRated summarises: “Is oat milk a good choice if you’re worried about the animal food industry? Yes. Is oat milk better for the environment? To an extent. Is oat milk healthy? In moderation and as long as you make smart choices.” 

    We asked two health experts to weigh in on this staple vegan alternative product.

    Is Oat milk healthy?

    In a nutshell – yes Oat milk is healthy and good for you. It’s high in protein and contains a number of other nutrients.

    “Oat milk is packed full of fibre and plant-based protein, and promotes a healthy digestive system,” says nutritionist Mina Khan, founder of Formulate Health. “As well as this, oat milk is generally a really great source of calcium, and most brands also fortify their versions with added nutrients such as vitamin A, B, B-12 and D.”

    a woman drinking oat milk at home

    Credit: Getty

    Containing both calcium and Vitamin D – oat milk is great for maintaining good bone health. The vitamin D helps your body absorb the calcium, which prevents hollow bones and possible bone fractures

    Mina adds that oat milk also benefits hair, nail and skin health. And indeed a study into vitamin B12, which is found in oat milk – showed that a deficiency in this vitamin can contribute to problems with acne and lead to dry, brittle nails.

    There’s further good news for oat milk drinkers, with research finding that the plant-based product can help with cholesterol and general gut health.

    Oat milk is also high in a soluble fiber known as beta-glucans. One study found that men who drank three cups of oat milk a day for five weeks saw their cholesterol levels reduced by three per cent (thanks to these beta-glucans). Whilst further research showed the same soluble fiber as supporting and increasing the production of good bacteria in your gut.

    Is Oat milk healthier than cow’s milk?

    According to nutritionist Jessica, oat milk is actually not healthier than cow’s milk.

    “If we weigh up key vitamins and minerals, then cow’s milk is the clear winner,” she tells us. “It’s a great source of protein, calcium, vitamin D and other important nutrients that have health benefits.”

    Indeed when comparing Oatly’s oat milk with regular cow’s milk, you’ll find that oat milk has five per cent less calcium than it’s dairy alternative. It also does not contain all nine of the essential amino acids that soy and dairy milk do.

    Cow’s milk additionally boasts eight grams of protein in a 1-cup serving compared to oat milk’s three grams. “So you’d have to drink more in order to see the same benefits from the protein contents, such as muscle recovery and feelings of fullness,” explains Mina.

    a woman picking up fresh cow's milk from a supermarket

    Credit: Getty

    There is however some advantages oat milk has over cow’s milk nutritionally – vitamin D and vitamin B-12.

    “Oat milk contains more vitamin D than cow’s milk, which has a wide range of health benefits such as promoting good bone and dental health and strengthening the immune system,” says Mina. The plant-based drink also has 50 per cent vitamin B12 in it as opposed to 18 percent in cow’s milk. 

    Whilst cow’s milk may trump oat milk nutritionally, it can be better for some people’s diet and lifestyle choices:

    “Health reasons aren’t alternative milks main strengths, as its real selling points are in the name – it’s an alternative,” Jessica highlights. “It has less of an impact on the environment, is a great option for people following a vegan diet or are lactose intolerant, or if you have ethical concerns with farming.”

    Those with allergies can also benefit from oat milk, with the drink gluten-free and naturally free of lactose, nuts and soy.

    Is Oat milk good for weight loss and why?

    Oat milk is definitely better for weight loss than whole milk says Mina:

    “Unsweetened oat milk contains around half the calories of whole cow’s milk, less than a quarter of the fat content and less sugars,” she tells us. “In comparison, skimmed milk contains around 90 calories per cup, whereas unsweetened oat milk contains just 60, so oat milk may be a better option for those looking to lose weight.”

    A women's handing holding a glass of oat milk

    Credit: Getty

    Nutritionist Jessica adds that oat milk can also help suppress appetite and cravings when trying to lose weight too.

    “Oat milk is high in levels of protein and dietary fibre, which means when you consume it you tend to feel fuller for longer, keeping away the effects of hungry,” she says. Scientists at Louisiana State University support this, with their research finding regular oat consumption can help regulate our appetite. 

    When considering oat milk and it’s weight loss abilities with other plant-based alternatives, it does fall a bit short.

    “Compared to other plant-based milks, oat milk is the most calorific and contains fairly high amounts of carbohydrates so may not be suitable for those on low carb diets,” says Mina.

    Indeed almond milk contains half the calories of oat milk. Whilst flax milk has 25 to 60 calories and coconut milk has 45 calories per cup.

    Is oat milk bad for you in anyway?

    Regular oat milk is bad and unsuitable for those with a gluten intolerance or celiac disease. This is because oats are often cross-contaminated with gluten during their production. And so the majority of oat milk isn’t gluten free unless it is explicitly certified as such.

    “Although high in protein compared to water, oat milk has one of the lowest protein contents of all the milk alternatives, like soy milk and almond milk,” says Jessica. So if you’re a vegan seeking protein, you’re better off choosing soy milk. As this boasts the highest protein count of all milk alternatives.

    bottles with different milk alternatives including oat milk

    Different plant-based milk alternatives. (Credit; Getty)

    It’s also pretty high in calories when compared to other cow milk alternatives – containing larger volumes of carbohydrates in the form of natural sugars.

    Some oat milk brands are additionally known to add more sugar to their product during the production phase. This is another big turn-off according to Mina:

    “Sweetened oat milk can be really high in sugar. So, I’d always say you should be sure to check the label and weigh up your options beforehand.”

    What are healthiest oat milk brands ?

    When analysing the different supermarket oat milk options, both experts agreed that Innocent oat milk was the healthiest brand.

    “It contains less calories, fats and sugars than most other oat drinks on the market, as well as having a comparable protein volume,” says Mina. Whilst Jessica commended it’s unsweetened nature largely down to it’s 3 simple ingredients – oats, salt and water.

    Alpro Oat Original is another healthy oat milk brand. With Jessica noting that it “tends to have more added fibre than other brands on the shelves.”

    a table comparing the healthiest oak milk brands

    Credit: Canva

    Depending on your health goals, Oatly’s oat milk could also be deemed as healthier, despite its high calorie content.

    “Oatly’s contains more protein and fibre,” explains Mina. “So it really depends on your own nutritional needs and what you’re consuming in the rest of your diet.”

    When looking for the healthiest oat milk brand in the supermarket, you should make a note of the following factors.

    “If you want to drink oat milk, look for one that is fortified with iodine, calcium and preferably also vitamin B12 and vitamin D,” says Professor Margaret Rayman, whose study in the British Journal of Nutrition compared the iodine content of different milk alternatives. These components are the ones that prioritise getting the right nutrients to benefit your body overall.

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