The Nutritional Benefits of Oat Milk
Cow’s milk is a familiar staple in many cultures around the world, but not everyone can actually digest it. In fact, about 65% of humans have some amount of lactose intolerance, a reduced ability to digest the lactose present in milk and other dairy products. In recent decades, a variety of lactose-free, plant-based milk alternatives have become widely available. Soy milk and various types of nut milk have been popular for a long time, but one that has seen a lot of growth in recent years is oat milk.
What is Oat Milk?
Oat milk is derived from whole oat grains, the same cereal grains used in oatmeal and rolled oats. The oat milk product is extracted using a similar process as in other non-dairy milk products, and part of that process includes the incorporation of nutrient additives. By itself, oat milk has less calcium, iron, and vitamin A than cow’s milk; these nutrients, along with vitamin D, vitamin B12, potassium, fiber, and riboflavin, are added to the final product so that it can be a nutritionally effective milk substitute.
Unlike other plant-based dairy alternatives, oat milk was only recently invented in the 1990s. Since then, the prevalence of oat milk has increased many times over, and it is currently second only to almond milk in terms of sales in the United States. Oat milk has also become a standard replacement in many vegan and dairy-free diets, and it is also more environmentally friendly to produce than cow’s milk. Even amongst other plant-based milks, oat milk has a lower environmental impact and requires less water and land.
What Are the Health Benefits of Oat Milk?
One of the primary health benefits of oat milk is as a good source of vitamins and minerals. These nutrients are used by the body for cellular repair, immune system support, and the general healthy function of body systems. In addition to what is gained during the fortification process noted above, oat milk contains many other nutrients that are beneficial for overall health: vitamin B, thiamin, folate, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, and copper.
The oats in oat milk are naturally high in dietary fiber and thus have more carbs than other plant-based milk alternatives. These natural carbohydrates are a good source of lasting energy, but unlike other alternatives, oat milk doesn’t contain any saturated fats. One serving of oat milk has 15 grams of carbohydrates, 2.5 grams of fat, 2 grams of fiber, and 4 grams of protein. Moreover, that same serving includes 35% of the recommended daily value for calcium and 25% of the recommended daily value for vitamin D.
Beyond its basic nutritional value, oat milk may also provide longer lasting health benefits. Some recent research has indicated that oat milk might have a positive impact on cholesterol levels; in one study, participants who regularly drank oat milk had lower LDL levels than those who drank rice milk. Through this research, scientists have concluded that the beta-glucan molecules that naturally occur in whole oats are the reason oat milk may help reduce LDL cholesterol.
Additional Health Considerations
Oat milk has grown in popularity and is now widely available at grocery stores across the United States. And while it has many health benefits as detailed above, some brands have added sugars that partially counteract those benefits. In addition to sugars and preservatives, some brands utilize emulsifiers and thickeners that have been known to have a negative impact on gastrointestinal health. Before buying oat milk (or really any other processed food product), it is wise to examine the nutrition facts and make sure it doesn’t have any potentially unhealthy additives.
One of the ways to be sure that there are no additives in your oat milk is to make some yourself. Surprisingly, this can be done with relative ease in your own kitchen with equipment that you probably already have (or can easily obtain). All it takes is rolled oats, water, and cheesecloth. After soaking the oats in water and blending them, the milk is squeezed out through the cheesecloth. The oat milk will stay fresh in the refrigerator for several days, and you can feel free to add your own natural sweeteners like vanilla or cinnamon. However, even though it won’t have added sugars, it also won’t have the nutrients added during processing and thus won’t be as nutritious as store-bought oat milk.
Bottom Line: Is Oat Milk Good for You?
If you opt for unsweetened oat milk, the kind without the added sugars, it can be a healthy and nutritious part of your diet. Fortified oat milk has similar nutritional benefits to cow’s milk and other plant-based milk alternatives, but it doesn’t have the saturated fat. Moreover, oats are naturally gluten-free, so oat milk can be a great alternative for those with gluten intolerance. Taken all together, oat milk is a creamier, vegan-friendly, environmentally friendly alternative to milk.
Is Oat Milk Good for a Diet?
Oat milk can be part of a generally healthy diet, but unsweetened oat milk can also be an option if you’re trying to lose weight. Without added sugars, the protein and fiber content, combined with the overall nutritional benefit, make oat milk a great alternative. But as with all things, moderation is the key, and ultimately a successful weight loss journey may require more than simply trying to cut calories.
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