What is oat milk and is it healthy?

What is oat milk and is it healthy?

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SALT LAKE CITY — Oat milk is the latest non-dairy beverage to gain attention and space in the dairy case at supermarkets. Companies such as Silk, Quaker and Elmhurst 1925 all have oat milk products on the market, competing for a spot in your grocery cart.

Oat milk has been named as one of the top food and nutrition trends of 2019, as well. With all this newfound attention being given to the latest plant-based beverage on the market, it begs the question: what exactly is oat milk and is it healthy?

Milk vs. beverage?

Many of the plant-based beverages on the market are called after their competitor, milk, that is dairy or cow's milk. However, the Food and Drug Administration defines milk as "the lacteal secretion … from the complete milking of one or more healthy cows … and shall not contain less than 8 1/4 percent milk solids.” Following this definition, soy milk, rice milk, almond and other nut milks currently do not meet FDA's definition of milk.

In contest to the rapidly rising milk alternatives industry, the DAIRY PRIDE Act was introduced in Congress in January 2017 to enforce against misbranded milk alternatives, highlighting that the FDA is violating its own standards of identity for milk.

In September 2018, the FDA stated it is concerned that the labeling of plant-based products, which may differ considerably in their nutrient composition, is "leading consumers to believe that those products have the same key nutritional attributes as dairy products." The FDA wants to ensure that labeling plant-based products with names that include dairy food language, such as "milk," is not misleading to people.

The FDA recently ended a public comment period on the matter and over the following year will be looking at next steps, which will include issuing guidance for industry. This will hopefully clarify the FDA’s direction regarding the labeling of plant-based products with names that include the names of dairy foods.

So like Quaker, who released their plant-based drink in January, we'll be calling it oat beverage — not milk — until the debate over whether the term is fitting for non-dairy beverages is settled.

How is oat beverage made?

Oat milk, or oat beverage, is a blend of oats and water that has been filtered to remove the solids — leaving just the liquid. Many manufacturers fortify their oat beverages with vitamins and minerals, like calcium, vitamin D and/or B12, to help it be a little more nutritionally equivalent with some of the nutrients in cow's milk.

It has a mild flavor and its consistency is a bit creamier than other dairy alternatives because the oats are capable of absorbing more water compared to nuts.

Oat beverage nutrition

When it comes to nutrition, Jessica Penner, BSc, RD, author ofMilk Alternatives: a Dietitian's Definitive Guide states, "Oat beverage is a good middle-of-the-road milk alternative. It has a medium amount of protein, a little bit of fat (from canola oil), and a moderate amount of carbs." Compared to nut milks and rice milk, oat milk has more protein, about 3-4 grams per cup. Because it comes from a grain, it’s higher in carbohydrates than nut and soy milks as well, around 15 grams per cup.

In addition, oat milk is one of the few plant-based beverages that contain fiber (some flax milks also have fiber), with amounts varying between products (ranging from 1 gram to 5 grams per serving). Soluble oat fiber (particularly beta-glucan) has been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels and, as part of an overall heart-healthy diet, may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Registered dietitian Kaleigh McMordie adds "what makes oat milk different than other plant-based milks is that it is free from the top 8 allergens. Oat beverage is nut-free, soy-free and dairy-free, so it’s safe for people with allergies or sensitivities. And as long as it is made with certified gluten-free oats, oat beverage is also gluten-free."

Oat beverage isn't nutritionally equivalent compared to cow's milk or soy milk, however, it can be a good choice for some as part of a healthy, varied diet. It is a smart option for someone allergic to nuts, dairy or soy and wants more fiber and slightly less carbs than is found in rice milk.

How to use oat beverage

Oat beverage can be used anywhere you would use other kinds of milk. "You can easily use it as a replacement for dairy milk in cereals, smoothies, baking, and coffee," says Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN, The Plant-Powered Dietitian.

Make your own oat beverage

If you can't find any containers of oat beverage at your local grocery store, no need to fret. You can make your own (though it won't be fortified with additional vitamins and minerals like many store-bought varieties).

With a few simple ingredients and about 15 minutes, you can make this simple Cinnamon Vanilla Oat Milk at home!

Kaleigh McMordie, Lively Table
Kaleigh McMordie, Lively Table


Brittany Poulson

About the Author: Brittany Poulson

Brittany Poulson is a Utah registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator. She shares her passion for health, food and nutrition on her blog, www.yourchoicenutrition.com, where she encourages you to live a healthy life in your unique way.

Editor’s Note: Anything in this article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended, nor should it be interpreted, to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition; Any opinions, statements, services, offers, or other information or content expressed or made available are those of the respective author(s) or distributor(s) and not of KSL. KSL does not endorse nor is it responsible for the accuracy or reliability of any opinion, information, or statement made in this article. KSL expressly disclaims all liability in respect to actions taken or not taken based on the content of this article.

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