Oat milk is a popular alternative to cow’s milk. It’s earned a rep for being delicious and it may suit your health goals better than the traditional moo juice we put on our cereal and leave out for Santa.
What even is oat milk?
Oat milk is milk made from oats by soaking and blend them.
It’s a popular milk alternative because oat milk is not only free of animal stuff, but it’s also free from lactose, nuts, and soy. Gluten-free oat milks are also available. Always check the label first though, because some products may contain additives that do have traces of the above.
There might be some additional benefits to swapping milk-of-cow for milk-of-oat in your diet. These may include lowering cholesterol and improving bone health, but this depends on how the manufacturers have chosen to fortify that product.
Are the benefits of oat milk more real than Santa, though? Is there any truth to the hype about oat milk, or is it all rumor that needs to get oat of town? Let’s find out!
Before we get into some hard oat-science research, let’s take a look at the nutrients behind all that oaty goodness that’s got so many folks swearing off animal milk.
Oat milk nutrition breakdown
Here’s what you can expect to find nutrient-wise in one 240-milliliter (ml) cup of unsweetened oat milk (and an equivalent cup of full fat cow’s milk for comparison):
|Unsweetened oat milk||Cow’s milk|
|Calories||79.2 calories||149 calories|
|Protein||4.01 grams (g)||7.69 g|
|Fats||1.49 g||7.93 g|
|Carbs||14 g||11.7 g|
|Fiber||1.02 g||0 g|
This oat milk product provides fewer calories, fats, and sugars than traditional cow’s milk. There’s also a little fiber in oat milk where cow’s milk doesn’t provide any.
Bear in mind that the USDA’s FoodData Central doesn’t have generic values for oat milk — we’ve had to refer to one particular product (Oatly’s Unsweetened Milked Oats), and these values will be different for any oat milk you buy. Sweetened or flavored options, for example, are likely to have a much larger amount of sugar.
Likewise, different types of animal milk offer different levels of nutrition — case in point, skimmed milk would provide less fat than whole milk.
If your health goal is to lose weight, then switching out cow’s milk for oat milk may be a good choice. Maybe not so much for gain chasers, though, due to the protein shortfall.
Be sure to read the packaging on whatever product you buy to make sure it meets your health needs.
Vitamins and minerals in oat milk
We compared some of the micronutrients in the same amount of oat milk, plus the percentage of your daily value (%DV) for each.
|Unsweetened oat milk (%DV)||Cow’s milk (%DV)|
|Calcium||19.2 mg (2% DV)||276 mg (21.2% DV)|
|Vitamin D||0 micrograms (mcg) (0% DV)||3.17 mcg (15.85% DV)|
|Potassium||93.6 mg (2% DV)||322 mg (6.8% DV)|
|Sodium||120 mcg (5% DV)||105 mcg (4.5% DV)|
|Iron||1.01 mg (5.6% DV)||0.07 mg (0.4% DV)|
|Vitamin B12||0 mcg (0% DV)||0.45 mg (18.8% DV)|
|Vitamin A||0 mcg (0% DV)||46 mcg (5.1% DV)|
|Riboflavin||0 mg (0% DV)||0.169 mg (13% DV)|
|Phosphorus||0 mg (0% DV)||84 mg (6.7% DV)|
On paper, the nutritional benefits of this particular oat milk product might seem a little wimpy compared to whole milk (apart from its iron content).
But remember that these are the values for unsweetened oat milk. There are plenty of fortified oat milks available that make up for any shortfalls, too. In fact, most oat milk available in stores comes fortified with vitamins A, D, B2, and/or B12.
Check your product’s packaging to work out whether it’s adding enough nutrients to your daily intake.
So that’s oat milk by the numbers, but what do those numbers mean when it comes to your body? Do all the benefits of oat milk depend on how well it hits/doesn’t hit your DV of certain nutrients?
1. Oat milk enables vegan, lactose-free, nut-free, soy-free milk enjoyment
Oat milk lovers usually had their first oat milk moment because they’re either vegan, lactose intolerant, or allergic to nuts or soy proteins.
The attraction to animal product alternatives is obvious. Vegans don’t want to drink milk from animals, and oat milk is one of many kinds of milk that don’t come from animals. Plus, like all plant milk, oat milk is free from lactose. This makes it a likely milk-of-choice candidate for the 36 percent of folks in the USA who have probs digesting lactose.
(This being said, lactose-free moo-moo milk is available in stores, too. So you have more options than you think.)
Oat milk stands out among plant milks though. Why? Because it hits a home run, smacking the nut-free and soy-free bases as it goes. It’s *super* allergy-friendly.
It’s estimated that 6.1 million peeps in the U.S. are allergic to peanuts, with tree nut allergies (like almonds and hazelnuts) impacting 3.9 million. Soy allergies may be less common, but 1.9 million folk in the U.S. have to avoid it. Big numbers there, bro.
Severe reactions to nuts and soy can be fatal. 200,000 peeps per year need emergency medical attention because of an allergic reaction to food. For folks with nut allergies, popular animal milk alternatives like almond and hazelnut milk are off the table. And soy milk is obviously a no-go for the peeps who can’t touch soy.
Put it this way: of all the available kinds of milk, oat milk is the only one you could serve at a dinner party and likely nobody phones PETA, has an upset stomach, or dies. That’s a pretty sweet benefit.
2. Fortified oat milk can be a source of B vitamins
In its pure, untreated form, oat milk isn’t that high in B vitamins. Like all grains, unprocessed oats can be a sturdy source of vitamins (like riboflavin aka vitamin B2), but these get Thanos Snapped during the blending process.
Don’t despair! Most commercial oat milk producers fortify their formulas with a multitude of B vitamins (as well as other minerals) to make up for those lost in the oat-to-milk transition. It’s common for plant milk to be fortified, so there isn’t a huge risk of vitamin deficiencies when subbing in plants for cows as your milk source.
Make sure you check the packaging, but B-vitamins often pop up as a micronutrient that manufacturers add to their oat milk. There’s no sinister e-number tomfoolery going on, either. They add naturally occurring vitamins to match (or beat) the nutritional value of the dairy product their oat milk is replacing.
Why does this matter? Because B vitamins are linked to a buttload of health benefits including:
- preventing fatigue that can occur as a result of B12-deficiency-induced anemia
- reducing your risk of depression and mood changes due to B12 deficiency
- promoting healthier skin, hair, and nails
B-vitamins are essential building blocks for cells, and they mainly come from animal proteins. Since B-vitamin deficiency (especially B12) is a real risk with vegetarian/vegan diets, fortified oat milk can be a good way to offset this knock to your daily B12 intake.
3. Oat milk *might* lower cholesterol
There’s still more research needed in this area. But there is a chance that oat milk could help keep your cholesterol at healthy levels. Unbalanced cholesterol levels can increase your risk of developing conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Oat milk contains beta-glucans. These soluble fibers make a sort of jelly in your gut that cholesterol sticks to. This means your body absorbs less of it (in theory). There’s been a fair bit of research that suggests the cholesterol benefits of beta-glucan jelly aren’t just wild speculation, either.
For starters, a 2014 meta-analysis of various randomized control trials found that high concentrations of beta-glucans did indeed lower concentrations of low-density lipoproteins (LDL, the “bad” cholesterol), as well as overall cholesterol levels.
A later review in 2018 reached similar conclusions, suggesting that beta-glucans may be suitable for treating conditions like dyslipidemia (the fancy term for having too much cholesterol).
But the studies used amounts of beta-glucan that were 5 to 7 times higher than you’d find in oat milk, so it’s unclear whether oat milk’s beta-glucan content would yield similar effects.
Scientists researched the oat milk/cholesterol connection in 2021. In a double-blind, randomized, controlled trial of males and females who drank 3 grams of oat milk every day for 4 weeks, the researchers found that participants’ LDL cholesterol reduced by 6 percent and their risk of cardiovascular disease by 8 percent.
It’s worth bearing in mind that participants in the above study drank a specialized bevvie with higher beta-glucan content 3 times a day. Plus, the study was only 4 weeks long — the “drop in cardiovascular risk” was projected from their short-term cholesterol levels.
So this doesn’t serve as concrete proof, but it’s useful as the backdrop for further studies on beta-glucan.
4. Some oat milk products *might* promote bone health
B-vitamins aren’t the only vitamins manufacturers throw into their oat milk recipes. Calcium and vitamin D also get invited to the party a heck of a lot. Y’know what they’re good for? Bones, bro.
A 2017 review concluded that vitamin D deficiency was a key factor in weak bones and osteoporosis, especially for older adults. Vitamin D helps your body absorb bone-building calcium. Without it, your risk of fractures and other bad bone stuff increases. A 2016 meta-analysis of osteoporosis and bone-health research found similar results.
Remember fortified oat milk’s vitamin B12 content? Well, that can also promote healthy bones.
A 2017 review of 17 studies found that, while more research is needed, there are several groups who demonstrate clear links between B12 deficiency and rates of bone fractures — in particular, older adults and people with ovaries who’ve lived through menopause.
Researchers suspect this may be down to a reduction in bone density, although the researchers couldn’t pinpoint the exact mechanism through which B12 supports bone strength. While more conclusive research needs to confirm the link, the presence of these nutrients in fortified oat milk makes it good for bone health.
Is oat milk better than animal milk?
The question entirely depends on what you want from your oat milk.
Where oat milk is the champ
- lower in fat
- provides marginally higher levels of minerals like sodium, potassium, and calcium
- some fortified products have more vitamin D and vitamin A
- contains fewer calories (which can be important if you’re trying to lose weight)
Where animal milk reigns supreme
- naturally contains lots of vitamin B12, so no fortification required
- contains more protein
- contains more calories (good news if you’re trying to gain weight)
So, in its fortified form, oat milk does seem to provide more health benefits than cow’s milk. But things are rarely that simple, and much of what is “healthier” for you is unique to your bodily needs.
It’s not as easy as “drop the cow, love the oat, become Dave Goggins.” There are a few things to consider before jumping on the oat milk bandwagon.
The first is sugar content. Many brands of oat milk (like other dairy alternatives) are sweetened and have high sugar content. Unsweetened options are usually labeled as such, so keep an eye out for those.
Another label to look out for is “gluten-free.” There are plenty of gluten-free options. But for peeps who are sensitive to gluten, most commercial oat milk contains at least traces of gluten, or the manufacturer can’t guarantee that their products are free of gluten contaminants. Again, always check the label.
It should also be noted that oat milk is not a suitable replacement for breast milk. It’s fine for kids and babies (it won’t hurt ’em), but it doesn’t have the essential nutrients kids need for growth.
You should always speak to your pediatrician before making any changes to your child/baby’s diet, and this is especially important when it comes to milk.
Making oat milk at home is super easy.
- Blend 1 cup (81 g) rolled or steel-cut oats with 3 cups (710 ml) water.
- Pour mixture over a cheesecloth to separate the oats from the oat milk.
- If you fancy customizing the flavor a bit, you can add either 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla/cinnamon extract, some dates, honey, or maple syrup.
- Store in a glass bottle in the fridge for up to 5 days.
See, we told you it was easy. You can also guarantee your homemade oat milk is gluten-free by using gluten-free oats. But remember that homemade oat milk won’t provide the same nutrients as fortified oat milk bought from a store.
Oat milk isn’t just for drinking. You can also cook with it! Here are some of our favorite recipes that use oat milk:
- Chocolate pudding breakfast cake. For the dessert lovers out there.
- Vegan zucchini and corn fritters. Wait, these are made with oat milk? Sign us up.
- Oat milk ice cream. If it’s milky AF, you can turn it into ice cream. This is how.
- Oat milk French toast. Now you can make it with oat milk. Oui, oui, and oui again.
As you can see, oat milk is pretty versatile. It’s easier to cook with than most plant milks, so usually swapping out dairy for oat milk in your recipes is straightforward (you can literally use a 1:1 ratio).
The only real exception is with baked goods. Oat milk has lower fat content than cow’s milk, so you may need to add a tablespoon of oil or butter per cup to buff up the fat for *that* golden-brown finish.
Oat milk is a popular dairy alternative. Unlike many other plant milks, it’s soy and nut-free, making it a favorite of both vegans and folks with allergies. Being not-milked-from-nipples, it’s also free of lactose.
If you buy oat milk that has been fortified with extra minerals and vitamins, oat milk comes close to cow’s milk nutritionally. But cow’s milk contains more protein and all 9 essential amino acids.
There’s a range of health benefits that might come from drinking oat milk. As well as a steady supply of many essential vitamins and minerals (and the benefits that come from them like stronger bones and improved skin health), oat milk contains beta-glucans. These could play a role in future cholesterol management therapies.
You can make oat milk at home, but it probably won’t be as nutrient-rich as the fortified store-purchased stuff. Cooking with oat milk is pretty easy, too, as has a similar consistency to cow’s milk.