Going dairy free, vegan or plant based has never been easier. Just look at the abundance of plant milk options on grocery store shelves and on coffee shop menus. Options include rice, coconut, almond, cashew, soy, macadamia nut and the ever popular oat milk. And why is oat milk so popular? In short, it’s trendy, it’s the newest kid on the block and its creaminess lends well to superior frothing in your latte.
This popular milk has made headlines on more than one occasion due to shortages, notably in 2018 when coffee shop patrons had to go without the frothy goodness of Oatly.
What is oat milk?
Oat milk is a dairy free alternative to cow’s milk. This plant based milk is the result of combining oats and water, blending and then straining. You may wonder- what does oat milk taste like? This thick and creamy beverage is slightly sweet with a mild oat flavor. The natural sweetness and silkiness of this dairy free milk made it easy to transition into products such as oat milk yogurts, coffee creamers, chocolate bars and ice cream.
Oat milk is not only vegan friendly, but also provides an option for those who suffer from dairy, nut and/or soy allergies.
Is oat milk gluten free?
Individuals with gluten intolerance or celiac should beware because while oats are naturally gluten free they are often processed on shared equipment with wheat. If in question, look for the gluten free label or make your own oat milk at home using certified gluten free oats.
What about oat milk powder
As oat milk grew in popularity, so did the topic of sustainability. Offering oat milk powder made way for less packaging. Basically, oat milk powder is its milk counterpart in dried powder form made from dehydrated oats and other plant based ingredients. Oat milk powder is shelf stable and can be reconstituted to make oat milk or oat milk creamer. It can also be added to smoothies, cocoa, soups and baked goods.
How to make oat milk
Making homemade oat milk couldn’t be easier and tends to be more cost effective, and healthier, than store bought. Here’s how to make it in three easy steps:
- Combine rolled oats and ice cold water in a high speed blender. Add any flavoring or sweetener, if you choose, to the blender.
- Blend on high for about 30 seconds, careful not to over-blend.
- Strain the mixture in a nut bag or through a cheesecloth.
Click here to watch video on how to make this easy, plant based milk.
Storage: how long does oat milk last?
Store your homemade milk in glass jars with tight-fitting lids. I like to use mason jars. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week. You may notice that the milk separates as it sits…totally normal. This is because it does not contain emulsifiers. Just give the jar a good shake before serving.
Oat milk nutrition: How does it stack up to other plant based milks
So which plant based milk do you choose? Certainly taste preference plays a major role, but for those questioning which provides the most nutrition let’s take a closer look at oat milk and a few popular options.
Unsweetened original is the lowest calorie option (30 calories per cup) of all the milks investigated here. It is fortified with calcium (45% Daily Value – this is more than what is found in cow’s milk) and vitamin D (25% DV). Percent daily value ranges are different across brands. Almond milk only contains 1 gram of protein per 1 cup serving.
Silk Unsweetened Almond Milk: 30 calories, 2.5g of fat, 1g carbohydrate, <1g fiber, 1g protein, 45% calcium, 25% vitamin D
Benefit unique to almond milk: 20% vitamin E
A good alternative to individuals with nut, soy or dairy allergies, unsweetened coconut milk comes in at 45 calories per cup and 4-5 grams of fat. The fat from coconut milk is in the form of medium chain triglycerides (MCT’s) which are most known for their brain boosting and performance boosting benefits. Coconut milk contains no protein. Some brands are fortified more than others and calcium content ranges from 0-45% DV while vitamin D ranges from 0-10% DV. Always check your labels.
So Delicious Organic Unsweetened Coconut Milk: 45 calories, 4.5g fat, 1g carbohydrate, 0g fiber, 0g protein, 10% calcium, 30% vitamin D
Soy milk shares a nutrient profile most similar to cow’s milk, but with less sugar, less fat and less calories. It also contains nearly 50% of the recommended value of B12, a nutrient of concern for vegans. However, soy comes with another set of considerations such as sourcing. With 90% of soy crops being genetically modified (GMO) it is worth it to consider purchasing from an organic source that is non-GMO.
Silk Organic Unsweetened Soy Milk: 80 calories, 4g fat, 3g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 7g protein, 20% calcium, 15% vitamin D
Oat milk is certainly higher in calories (~130g/cup) and carbohydrates (~20g/cup), but contains more protein and fiber than other plant based milks. It is enriched with nutrients such as potassium, vitamin D and calcium just like its plant based milk counterparts. Also oats are a good source of the soluble fiber, beta glucans, which is touted for lowering cholesterol. Oat milk can also have upwards of 10% DV of iron, a mineral to be aware of in vegans and vegetarians.
Oatly Oat Milk Original: 120 calories, 5g fat, 16g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 2g protein, 35% calcium, 40% vitamin D
Ways to add more protein to your dairy free milk:
If you are not vegan you may opt to add collagen to your plant milk, which easily dissolves and is virtually flavorless. For a vegan option, blend hemp seeds into your plant based milk (no straining necessary thereby preserving all of the nutrients). Hemp provides 3 grams of protein per tablespoons plus the added benefit of omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids. Hemp seed also makes a great whole food protein alternative to protein powders in smoothies.
Buyer Beware and other considerations:
Always make sure to check the ingredients panel for unnecessary additives. Recently I was at a coffee shop and asked for oat milk to add to my coffee. I was floored when they handed me the container and I saw that the milk contained canola oil (highly refined and proinflammatory)! Upon further research I learned that canola or rapeseed oil is added to oat milk as an emulsifier. Other additives to look for include “natural” flavors, artificial sweeteners, preservatives and thickening agents such as guar gum, which can be hidden in any plant milk.
A final word of caution, the Environmental Working Group uncovered that oats contain glyphosate…the active ingredient found in Roundup and is a by-product of oat crops that have been sprayed with the notorious weed killer. You may remember a popular topic in the news media connecting glyphosate to popular oat-containing breakfast cereals. The bad news- the EWG found glyphosate in almost all oat-based products sampled in an October 2018 study including 33% of organically grown oats tested.1 The good news- the glyphosate levels were much lower in organically grown oats and were well below benchmark levels. Moral of the story? If you still choose oat milk I would opt for the organically sourced variety.
It all boils down to label reading. Additives and nutrition information vary across brands. If it is calcium and vitamin D or even iron and B12 you are interested in then compare labels. Also, beware of the additives I mentioned above. Not one of the plant based milk alternatives is superior across the boards. If you are watching calories or carbohydrates then almond milk would be the better alternative. Alternatively, a homemade oat milk could be a great whole food, fiber-containing alternative.
Easy Oat Milk Recipe
- 1 cup rolled oats gluten free
- 4 cups water filtered, cold
- pinch of salt
- 1 date pitted
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp vanilla
- Add oats, water and salt to a high speed blender. Add optional ingredients to flavor as desired.
- Blend until smooth and creamy, about 30 seconds.
- Strain through a nut milk bag or cheesecloth.