Is oat milk good for our health? Here’s what the experts say
For those looking for non-dairy alternatives to cow’s milk, oat milk offers a creamy substitute that many agree tastes great in coffee and tea. But is oat milk really as good for our health as we’ve been led to believe?
Nutritionists are divided. Like other plant-based milks, oat milk is fortified with vitamins and minerals. But, some brands are highly processed and actually contain minimal oats. This has raised questions about the accuracy of the ‘oat milk’ label. There are concerns about its sugar levels, too.
With sugar known to impact our hormonal health, influencing mood, energy, and overall wellbeing, should we be steering clear of this plant-based alternative, particularly in midlfe? Here, we chat to the experts to find out more.
What is oat milk?
“We can think of oat milk a little like oat water,” says Hannah Alderson, a BANT Registered Nutritionist and founder of The Positive Method. “In some brands of ultra-processed oat milk, oats make up such a small percentage of the ingredients that it’s a shock that the product can even be called ‘oat milk’.”
Oat milk is made by soaking steel-cut oats in water, and then straining the mixture. From there, some manufacturers fortify their milk with vitamins and minerals.
“Proper whole oats are a source of complex carbs and fibre, including the fibre beta-glucan,” explains Hannah. “Oat milk isn’t, as the fibre has been removed. There can also be a host of vegetable oils used in barista versions of milk too, which have very minimal nutritional benefit.”
Does oat milk impact our blood sugar?
“Oat milk has catapulted to the top of alternative milk choices, as it’s creamy, sweet and tastes delicious in a coffee,” explains Hannah. “But really, it’s just sugar water. This should ring alarm bells for anyone concerned with blood sugar balance.
“Oats break down into starch and then into glucose molecules. Turning them into milk results in a simple sugar and drinking that is a recipe for potential blood sugar spikes.”
Not all milk has to be brimming with protein to stop blood sugar spikes, but we do need to be mindful. While a drop in our morning cuppa isn’t likely to cause an issue, having a latte or a bowl of porridge with oat milk might cause glucose levels to fluctuate.
“Certain varieties of this plant-based milk may also contain oils such as rapeseed oil, palm oil, or sunflower oil, along with other additives like stabilisers or gums,” says nutritional therapist VJ Hamilton. “The health implications of these additives vary. It’s crucial to be aware of their presence in oat milk.”
As Hannah explains, it’s important to be aware of the amount of sugar we’re eating, especially through midlife and beyond.
“As we age, our sex hormones naturally start to decline – this impacts nearly all facets of our health, in particular our ability to deal with glucose,” she says. “Women going through hormonal changes like the menopause might experience changes in mood, energy, sugar cravings and brain fog. Even if we’re still eating the same diet, our risk of insulin resistance rises as we tiptoe towards perimenopause and beyond.”
Not ready to give it up just yet?
For those who can’t imagine going cold turkey with oat milk, there are ways we can mitigate the notorious blood sugar rollercoaster.
“Pair it with protein, colourful fibre and healthy fats, such as poached eggs with avocado on brown bread,” advises Hannah. “And if you can, opt for a post-breakfast walk to bring that glucose spike down.
Plus, as Hannah explains, there are things we can look out for if buying shop-bought plant milks.
“Turn the carton around,” she says. “You’ll likely see gums, thickeners, stabilisers and oils, all of which have the potential to be pro-inflammatory.
“Be particularly wary of dipotassium phosphate. This is a synthetic acidity regulator that has been linked to gut inflammation, kidney issues and increased risk of skeletal and cardiovascular disease. Avoid this synthetic chemical if you spot it on the ingredients.”
What are the alternatives?
Making our own plant milks at home is any easy way to know exactly what we’re consuming. Read our guide to making your own here.
But, if we’re short on time, there are other shop-bought options out there. Almond milk is a light and versatile option and soy milk also packs a protein punch. We can also try coconut milk, cashew, hemp and pea. As with any processed food, we need to be mindful of the added ingredients on the back of the carton.