Oat milk: What to know about this dairy-free alt-milk

Remember when you used to ask the barista to use almond milk in your latte? Now, it’s likely you’ll request oat milk instead.

The nut-free, vegan drink is hot in 2018, becoming a commonly requested option in coffeehouses and at grocery stores. It’s made by adding water to liquefied oats, and it has a thick, creamy texture. Plus, oat milk is easy to make at home. So is this plant-based milk alternative worth all the hype? Here’s what to know:

Nutrition varies by brand but is overall solid. You can get a good sense of the nutrition details from a typical 8-ounce serving of Pacific Foods original oat milk. It contains 130 calories, 2 grams of fat and 105 milligrams of sodium. There are 26 grams of carbs, 17 grams of total sugars, 2 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein. Those 8 ounces also pack 133 milligrams of potassium and 121 milligrams of calcium. Sports dietitian Leslie Bonci recommends paying particular attention to how oat milk matches up against the nutrients in both cow’s milk and other dairy-free milk alternatives. For example, while 4 grams of protein surpasses almond milk’s 1 gram and coconut milk’s zero grams, oat milk doesn’t provide a complete protein, meaning it doesn’t contain all nine essential amino acids. Dairy products and soy, meanwhile, contain all essential amino acids.

It’s not low in calories. At around 130 calories per 8-ounce serving, oat milk is more caloric than most dairy-free alternatives. The average serving of unsweetened almond milk, for comparison, delivers 35 calories, while a serving of unsweetened soy milk is 90 calories. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t drink it, but pay attention to how those calories fit into your daily diet.

[See: 7 Ways to Get Calcium Beyond Milk.]

It provides decent fiber. According to a 2016 study published in Advances in Nutrition, less than 5 percent of Americans consume the recommended amount of dietary fiber. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a daily intake of between 25 and 38 grams, depending on age, gender and activity level. Soluble fiber is important for helping to manage cholesterol levels and stabilize blood-glucose levels, says Bonci, who’s based in Pittsburgh. “On both of these fronts, soluble fiber can be therapeutic in a positive way.” And New York-based dietitian Keri Gans adds that it’s unusual for nondairy beverages to have any fiber, making oat milk a standout. “Although 2 grams may not seem like a lot at the end of the day, the average consumer is not consuming enough fiber to begin with, so wherever they can get a little extra is going to make a difference,” she says.

There can be too many added sugars. Oats are a carbohydrate with a higher amount of naturally occurring sugars than other options and a naturally sweeter taste. Gans urges consumers to be aware of added sugar in sweetened versions of oat milk, as it may be overkill on the sugar content. Fitting oat milk into your overall diet is a balancing act, Gans says. “If a small amount is simply being used in your morning coffee, then it is not as important to consider sugar.”

[See: 7 Reasons to Choose a Plant-Based Diet.]

It’s good for people with food allergies. Oat milk is a welcome option for people with nut or soy allergies who are also vegan or lactose intolerant. While other nut-free, dairy-free alternative milks are available, many fall short nutritionally. Rice milk, for example, generally contains no dietary fiber and only 1 gram of protein, Gans says. And flaxseed milk, another popular alternative, contains no protein or dietary fiber.

It’s versatile. Oat milk’s thicker texture allows it to be quite versatile. The beverage works well in recipes for both cooking and baking, since its texture is similar to cow’s milk, Bonci says. And its ability to froth has been a hit among baristas at specialty coffee shops. Alex Shein, a barista at Bluestone Lane coffee shop in Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood, says that coffee brewers like it because it’s easy to work with and less delicate than almond and soy. It’s exploded in popularity, he says, because it doesn’t overpower the flavor in espresso-based drinks, especially compared with alternatives. And it doesn’t curdle the same way almond and soy milk often do.

You can make it at home. Oat milk is easy to make at home — and cost-effective, too, which makes it a popular DIY beverage. From start to finish, the process should take no longer than 10 minutes. All you need are oats (either rolled or steel-cut), water, a blender and a fine strainer or cheese-cloth to separate the pulpy solids from the liquid. When you make your own, you can customize the taste to your liking. One recipe from the Minimalist Baker suggests adding dates or vanilla extract for a sweeter flavor, or cacao powder for a creamy take on chocolate milk. While soaking the oats overnight will produce more flavorful milk, it’s not a required step the way it is for homemade nut milks, Bonci says. Once complete, the milk can be stored in the fridge and enjoyed for up to five days.

[See: 8 Dairy-Free Desserts.]

It’s good for the environment. Not only are oats healthy for people, but they’re good for the environment, too. Oats are a hearty crop, capable of growing in a range of environments. They can be part of a robust crop rotation program for farmers, since they’re capable of growth in cold-weather climates, says Mike Messersmith, general manager of U.S. operations for Oatly, a Swedish oat milk company. “They really help to restore nutrients into the soil,” Messersmith says. “They don’t require as many pesticides or fertilizers as some other crops.” Indeed, a 2010 report from the University of Minnesota noted that “[o]ats can suppress weeds, protect soil and scavenge nutrients.” And a 2010 report conducted by IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, then known as the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education, found that almond crops require almost five times the amount of water that oat crops do. An estimated 80 percent of the world’s almond supply comes from California — a state that has experienced extreme droughts.

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Oat Milk: What to Know About This Dairy-Free Alt-Milk originally appeared on usnews.com

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