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Whether your tummy can’t handle lactose, you’re looking to steer clear of animal-derived products, or you just want more variety in your diet, there’s a milk alternative to fit every need (oat milk, anyone?). A Packaged Facts report finds that Americans are drinking two fewer glasses of cow’s milk per week than in years past, and plant-based alternatives are picking up the slack.
The latest “milk” taking the U.S. by storm is made from oats, with proponents claiming that its fuller flavor is perfect for scratching that dairy itch. And just when you were getting used to adding oat milk to your morning brew or post-workout smoothies, the latest oat-based innovations are already available in the dairy and freezer aisles. Here’s how these not-milk products stack up.
This newer kid on the “milk” block is made from whole oats that are soaked in water, blended, and then strained, with an end result that is naturally sweet and deliciously creamy because the grains absorb more water than nuts might. With a mouthfeel closer to the real thing than most milk alternatives, it doesn’t feel like you’re drinking watered-down results. That makes it great to add to everything from coffee to baking. (Pro tip: It steams well if you’d like to use it in lattes or cappuccinos, much to the delight of baristas.)
While it doesn’t stack up to dairy milk or soy milk in terms of protein, oat milk features more than nut milks (including almond)—about 3–4 grams per cup. Plus, it has 2 grams of fiber, including cholesterol-busting beta-glucan.
On the downside, it’s also quite a bit higher in carbohydrates than nut milks—around 15–25 grams per cup depending on the brand. If you’re restricting carbohydrates in your diet (hello, keto) then oat milk may not be your best option.
Some varieties are fortified and may contain nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, and vitamin B12. But it’s hard to know whether these are as beneficial as nutrients from naturally occurring sources. As long as you’re getting those nutrients somewhere in your diet, you don’t really need them in your milk.
Allergy-wise, oat milk is nut-free, soy-free, and (obviously) dairy-free, so it’s safe for people with these sensitivities. Although oats themselves contain no gluten, cross-contamination can be an issue. If you have celiac disease or are otherwise gluten intolerant, be sure to seek a brand that is certified gluten-free.
As is the case with other non-dairy milks, there’s likely to be a lot more in your oat milk than just oats.
Manufacturers add varying amounts of sugar, thickeners, emulsifiers, and other flavoring agents. Choose unsweetened varieties to keep your sugar intake in check, and look for brands with simple ingredients lists to avoid a lot of unnecessary fillers.
Our Pick: Elmhurst Unsweetened Milked Oats
Oat Milk Yogurt
Take oat milk, inoculate it with live cultures, and—boom!—you’ve got an excellent plant-based yogurt alternative with all the tang you’d expect from the real thing with a much smaller environmental footprint.
“Oatgurt” can help fertilize your gut with beneficial microorganisms for a more robust microbiome that may contribute to improved digestive, immune, and brain health. Just keep in mind that most brands contain only about 3 grams of protein per cup—roughly one-fifth the protein in the same amount of Greek yogurt—so they won’t be as satiating, and you’ll have to make up for this protein shortfall elsewhere in your diet.
Some, but not all, brands are fortified with nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. Sadly, it can be a nearly Sisyphean challenge to find plain versions of oat milk yogurt, with flavored options delivering 10–15 grams of added sugar in a serving. Since eating too many extra sugars has been linked to everything from depression to impaired immunity, be sure to trim your intake of the added sweet stuff elsewhere if you enjoy spooning up fruit-flavored or vanilla oat yogurt.
Our Pick: Hälsa Mango Oatgurt
Oat Milk Ice Cream
While it’s far from the first dairy-free option available, oat ice cream is generating quite a buzz as the best no-moo brain freeze available. It’s made by taking oat milk and churning it with other ingredients such as cane sugar, coconut oil, and emulsifiers such as guar gum.
When it comes to dairy-free ice cream, most people don’t expect it to be a strong copycat of cookie dough Ben & Jerry’s, but the oat variety has become the exception. The first thing to know about rich-tasting oat-based ice cream is that it’s typically creamy right out of the freezer. No need to leave it out to thaw for several impatient minutes like many other vegan ice creams, and there’s no icy mouthfeel. Secondly, it’s now available in tempting flavors ranging from s’mores to mint fudge to salted caramel, none of which taste like porridge.
So grab a spoon, knowing that oat ice cream is an indulgence, not a superfood. It can be surprisingly comparable to regular ice cream when it comes to calories, sugar, and saturated fat, but with fewer grams of protein. A ²/3 cup serving (yes, a serving is not a whole pint!) of oat ice cream can deliver as much as 20 grams of added sugar, certainly no less than what you typically find in the regular stuff.
The upshot is that if you’re in the dairy-free camp, oat ice cream is a delicious treat option, but it should be enjoyed as just that—an occasional splurge.
Mayan Chocolate Pudding — This decadent dessert is so rich and creamy, you won’t believe it’s not made with whole milk.
Golden Overnight Oats — This make-ahead breakfast dish is packed with fiber and other key nutrients.