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I’ve been consuming plant-based milks since the 1970s. It’s been overwhelming (in a good way!) to see the market expand to include so many alternative milk products made from a variety of nuts, grains, and legumes.
Recently, we published Healthy Almond Milk Shopping Guide, because almond milk is the most popular plant-based milk. Now, because you guys asked (and asked!), we are pleased to bring you an Oat Milk Guide to help you find the best store-bought oat milk.
Oat milk is enjoying increased popularity because it’s plant-based, nut-free, and soy-free. I prefer oat milk over many plant-based milks. The biggest problem with oat milk is that it typically has more carbohydrates and sugars than other plant-based milks (more on that, below).
Oat Milk Ingredients
All oat milks include at least oats and water, and the best store-bought oat milk brands will contain only those ingredients.
Many other oat milk products also have sweeteners, oils, thickening agents, emulsifiers and stabilizers, flavorings, preservatives, and added vitamins and minerals. These additives are used to enhance texture, appearance, performance, shelf-life, and nutritional profile. They can also be problematic for a variety of reasons. Consider the following:
- Added sweeteners might produce a yummier milk, but simple sugars can raise your blood sugar and insulin levels. Most of us don’t need any extra sugar in our diets! (Read more in the sugar section, below.)
- Added oils in oat milks typically come in the form of lower-quality seed oils, like rapeseed or canola. These sources of fat can throw off a healthier fatty acid ratio; most of us need more omega-3 fatty acids but get a lot of omega-6 fatty acids from plant-based oils. This can result in increased inflammation, which none of us needs! The best store-bought oat milk brands have just the small amount of fat that occurs naturally in the whole oat.
- Flavoring ingredients (even “natural flavors”) are highly complex, not very natural, and opaque ingredients–as consumers, we don’t know what’s actually in them. Good old vanilla extract is the only flavor ingredient that you’ll see on the best store-bought oat milk labels.
- Ingredients used to thicken, emulsify, stabilize and preserve oat milk can include gums and mineral salts. While these additives are generally considered safe in low amounts, many of them are highly processed and may not be tolerated well by some people. If oat milk is a staple in your diet, you probably want an additive-free product. The best store bought oat milk will be free of all of these additives.
- Added vitamin and mineral ingredients might look good on the nutrition label, but they can be highly processed, and they aren’t necessarily bioavailable (able to be absorbed by the body). I prefer to get most of my nutrients from whole-food sources. Again, the best store-bought oat milks won’t be packed with added synthetic vitamins.
Sugar in Oat Milks–Extra Sneaky
Because cow’s milk is naturally sweet, we expect milk alternatives to have a little sweetness, too. Many plant-based milks include sweeteners to make their products appealing to consumers who are switching from dairy milk.
Oat milks are a little tricky when it comes to sugar content. If you look at the ingredient list for many oat milk products, you won’t see any added sweeteners. But, if you look at the nutrition label, you’ll see plenty of sugar.
Why is this?
Oat milk manufacturers typically use enzymes to partially break down the oats to make the milks creamier and sweeter. Naturally occurring oat starches become a simple sugar called maltose.
The good thing about this is that manufacturers can use fewer (or no) additional ingredients to get the creaminess and sweetness that make their products appealing. The bad thing is that the product can be sweet and high in carbs and sugar while still technically having “no sugar added.”
Manufacturers do have to list these sugars on the nutrition label, so if you’re watching your sugar intake, check for “total sugars” and “added sugars.” There are some zero-sugar oat milks that are made without this enzymatic process and have some carbs but no simple sugars. I’ve included a couple of these products among my recommendations below.
An important difference between cow’s milk and oat milk is that the lactose in dairy doesn’t impact blood sugar responses as much as maltose and added sugars do. So even if you’re not sugar conscious in general, do watch out for the added sugars in oat milk.
Is the Best Store-Bought Oat Milk Fortified?
Some oat milk brands add minerals, vitamins and even protein to mirror the nutritional profile of dairy milk. These packages might boast about the content of calcium, vitamin D, or vitamin B-12. But do you need this?
Personally, I use oat milk in place of cow’s milk, but I am not looking for the nutrition that I would get from cow’s milk. I eat a healthy diet and supplement with a multi-vitamin and vitamin D, so I choose a non-fortified oat milk.
You may prefer a fortified oat milk if you’re seeking a nutritional replacement for dairy. None of the Best Stuff is in this category because of the additional ingredients; if you want a decent fortified oat milk, check out some of the products listed in Okay Stuff.
Hidden Scary Stuff in Oat Milk
Glyphosate, the carcinogenic active ingredient in Monsanto’s RoundUp and other herbicides, is widely used in the cultivation of oats and many other common crops.
In 2018, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) commissioned two studies that found concerning levels of glyphosate in an alarming number of common oat-based cereals and foods. These included including popular children’s foods. In fact, most of the conventional products had elevated levels of glyphosate, and about a third of organic products did, thanks to cross-contamination.
Because of this, we only call oat milk Good Stuff if it’s organic and/or certified glyphosate-residue free by The Detox Project. The best store-bought oat milk is both organic and glyphosate-residue free.
If oat milk is a staple in your diet, I highly recommend that you opt for a glyphosate-free product.
A Note About “Barista” Oat Milks
These blends tend to have higher amount of oils and additive ingredients in order to make them extra creamy. I did find two barista oat milks that are Okay Stuff:
- Elmhurst Oat Barista Edition also has a short list of ingredients: filtered water, whole grain oats, cane sugar (a very small amount), dipotassium phosphate, and salt. It’s not organic, but Elmhurst oat milks are certified glyphosate-free.
- Minor Figures Barista Oat (Organic) is a decent pick for people looking for a creamy, foaming-friendly oat milk. The ingredients are water, organic oats, organic sunflower oil, salt, and potassium carbonate. I don’t like the sunflower oil, but I do like that it’s organic and this milk doesn’t have many of the additives you find in most other barista products.
Homemade Oat Milk
Thirty years ago, when I followed a macrobiotic diet, I made my own oat milk. I cooked whole oats with lots of water and then strained them. The result was fairly bland, but quite thick and creamy. Today, it is much easier to make yummier versions of these milks with a plant-milk maker. This is the one we have and recommend. I like using steel-cut oats for the most nutritious version possible.
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Are there oat milk brands not mentioned here that you want to know about? Do you favor oat milk over almond or soy milk? Which is your favorite brand when it comes to taste? We’d love to know!
To your health,
One response to “Healthy Store Bought Oat Milk Guide”
Hi! Which top two Oatmilk from the okay stuff would you recommend on a daily basis in replace of cow milk?