Is oat milk healthy? The experts break it all down

Is oat milk healthy? We settle the oat milk vs cow’s milk dilemma

Oat milk in a glass and mug on a blue background
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you’ve ditched dairy recently, you may be wondering, is oat milk healthy? 

It’s creamy, may help with weight loss, and also tastes delicious in coffee, so it’s no surprise that people are adding oat milk to their diets at a fast rate. 

While the health benefits of oats are widely documented, there are some unanswered questions about oat milk that we are keen to investigate, such as is oat milk good for you and whether it’s any better for you than cow’s milk.

Is Oat milk healthy?

In a nutshell, Mina Khan, nutritionist and founder of Formulate Health, says 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,” she explains. “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. According to the Journal of Mid-life Health, 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 more good news for oat milk drinkers too, with research finding that the plant-based product can help with cholesterol and general gut health.

Oat milk is also high in a soluble fibre known as beta-glucans. The National Library of Medicine found that men who drank three cups of oat milk a day for five weeks saw their cholesterol levels reduced by three percent (thanks to these beta-glucans). While further evidence in research journal Microbiome showed the same soluble fibre as supporting and increasing the production of good bacteria in your gut.

Is oat milk better for you than regular milk? 

According to nutritionist Jessica Overfield, a BSc nutritionist at BrandRated, 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.”

Case in point: when comparing Oatly’s oat milk with regular cow’s milk, you’ll find that oat milk has five percent less calcium than its dairy alternative. It also does not contain all nine of the essential amino acids (the building blocks for protein) that soy and dairy milk do. 

Cow’s milk additionally boasts eight grams of protein in a one 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 buying fresh cow's milk from a supermarket

Credit: Getty
(Image credit: Getty Images)

From a nutrition perspective, there are however some advantages oat milk has over cow’s milk: “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 contains 50 percent vitamin B12 as opposed to 18 percent in cow’s milk. 

While 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 milk’s 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, 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 better than regular milk for weight loss?

Oat milk is definitely better for weight loss than whole milk, confirms 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 who are wondering how to lose weight.”

A woman's handing holding a glass of oat milk

Credit: Getty
(Image credit: Getty Images)

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 hunger," 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 its 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, while flax milk has 25 to 60 calories and coconut milk has 45 calories per cup.

Is there a downside to oat milk? 

If you’re wondering whether oat milk is good for your stomach, hear this: 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 to add more protein in your diet, 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)
(Image credit: Getty Images)

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 the healthiest oat milk brands UK?

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. 

Jessica commended its unsweetened nature largely down to its three 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 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:

“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. 

Oats are a high-fibre food, so if you’re wondering where you can get the same benefits, check out our guide to the best high fibre foods to lose weight. Plus, these celebrities also enjoy oat milk in their diets.

Emily Stedman
Features Editor

Emily Stedman is the former Features Editor for GoodTo covering all things TV, entertainment, royal, lifestyle, health and wellbeing. Boasting an encyclopaedic knowledge on all things TV, celebrity and royals, career highlights include working at HELLO! Magazine and as a royal researcher to Diana biographer Andrew Morton on his book Meghan: A Hollywood Princess. In her spare time, Emily can be found eating her way around London, swimming at her local Lido or curled up on the sofa binging the next best Netflix show.

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