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Is Oat Milk Healthy? Registered Dietitians Weigh In

Is oat milk healthy or a junk food in disguise? Registered dietitians weigh in on the controversial plant-based milk.

Written by
Morgan Cook

You made the switch from dairy milk to plant-based milk, trying almond milk, soy milk, coconut, and more before crowning oat milk as your favorite. It’s the perfect complement to your morning cup of coffee and makes some seriously frothy lattes. It's also considered to be one of the most sustainable option and uses significantly less water, energy, and land than dairy.

All in all, oat milk has been nothing short of America's sweetheart the past few years. Particularly Oatly: The popular brand Starbucks recently added to its menu nationwide. (So popular, in fact, that there's already a shortage.) But this week, a debate was sparked over just how healthy Oatly actually is after a viral tweet: "I'm still in awe that Oatly created super sugar grain juice, cut it with canola oil, and then successfully used (amazing) marketing to convince everyone that no, this is good," wrote @keccers.

Along with the tweet was a snippet from an article that compared the sugar in Oatly to the high-fructose corn syrup in Coca-Cola. The author also said "putting 12 ounces of Oatly into your latte and adjusting for the higher GI of maltose means adding almost a tablespoon of table sugar to your drink."

So, what's the truth about oat milk? And is maltose really something you should be worried about? Two dietitians chime in.

What Is Maltose?

Okay, first thing's first: What's this maltose everyone is talking about? Simply put, when oats are broken down during the oat milk production process, you get maltose—a natural form of sugar.

“Maltose is made up of two glucose molecules, whereas table sugar is made up of one glucose molecule and one fructose molecule," says Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, founder of Real Nutrition. "Therefore, it affects your blood sugar more quickly and dramatically."

According to Darlene Regueiro, RDN, founder of XO, Life Edit, maltose has a higher glycemic index than other sugars. "This is of particular consideration for those with metabolic issues, such as the diabetic population." But for the most part, the main thing to keep in mind is to consume it in moderation—just like with any sugar, whether that's in oat milk or another product.

“Maltose may be healthier than table sugar because glucose is used for energy," Shapiro says. "But since it's a sugar, it should be consumed in moderation and considered in the amount of sugar you consume per day. Added sugars should be limited to 6 to 10 percent of total daily calories."

Do you need to completely avoid maltose? Nope—definitely not. With that being said, it's never a bad idea to pay closer attention to the ingredients list on your favorite oat milk to ensure it's a healthy choice.

Should You Stop Drinking Oat Milk?

Good news: If you love oat milk, there's no reason to stop drinking it. "Just like anything else, consuming oat milk in moderation isn't terrible," Shapiro says. If you're having it often, the key is being more judicious about which brand you choose. “You want to have the fewest ingredients. Look for unsweetened varieties that are free from gums, thickeners, and oils." Her personal recommendation is Elmhurst.

Regueiro adds choosing organic oat milk is also a good choice. "Conventional oat crops are sprayed with pesticides," she says. "I would also look for an option that doesn't contain canola (rapeseed oil), as this causes inflammation in the body." She's a big fan of Planet Oat and MALK.

The Benefits of Oat Milk

The internet is trying to take down oat milk, but it's important to note that there are plenty of benefits to drinking it. "It's a nut-free variety, so it's great for those with allergies," says Shapiro. "It's also low in fat and it contains beta-glucans, which can help to promote gut health and reduce cholesterol levels."

It's also a great alternative to dairy in taste and texture: "The popular opinion amongst consumers is that oat milk’s creamy consistency is most similar to that of dairy," Regueiro says. Extra bonus: "Oat milk contains some fiber and protein. Most alternative milks lack fiber, as does cow’s milk."

Of course—like with anything—making oat milk yourself at home typically gives you the cleanest and healthiest end result. If you still want to reap the benefits of oat milk while avoiding any concerns over processing or additives, try this simple recipe.

What About Oat Milk Alternatives?

If you're interested in trying another alt-milk beyond oat milk, there are plenty of plant-based options out there. For instance, try hazelnut milk, which uses minimal water and is drought-resistant. Or there's pea milk, which requires minimal pesticide use and is known for low greenhouse gas emissions. Both contain no added sugars in their unsweetened varieties.

At the end of the day, all plant-based milk options have their pros and cons, so order your latte and choose the one that works best for you and your lifestyle. "I believe we shouldn’t fear foods," says Regueiro. "So I want to clearly state that if once in a while you do have a non-organic, canola oil-containing oat milk, it's not the end of the world."