Oat Milk vs. Almond Milk: Which Is Better?

For thousands of years, humans have been consuming dairy milk as part of their every day diet. This liquid, which forms the basis of the entire dairy food group, is typically retrieved from a cow, goat, sheep or horse. While all mammals produce milk, humans usually consume only a few kinds of milk from other species.

Milk production is what distinguishes mammals from other kinds of animals. It’s delicious and nutritious as a food item, but fundamentally, it’s the “whitish fluid rich in fat and protein that’s secreted by the mammary glands of female mammals for the nourishment of their young,” explains Kathryn Parker, a registered dietitian with Aviv Clinics in The Villages, Florida.

But technology, changing tastes and a rise in food allergies and environmental concerns have revolutionized the dairy aisle in recent years. “The increase in allergies and lactose intolerance, environmental factors and vegetarianism has created a need for non-dairy alternatives,” Parker says.

Over the last few years, dairy alternative milks, such as those made from almonds, soybeans and other starchy plants or nuts have become widely popular. These beverages are often seen as a “healthier or more sustainable alternative to dairy products” by some consumers, says Candace Pumper, a staff dietitian at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center’s Comprehensive Weight Management and Metabolic/Bariatric Surgery Program in Columbus.

But what exactly are these products and are they healthier than cow’s milk?

[READ: Tips to Adjust to a Plant-Based Diet.]

Is Plant-Based Milk Nutritious?

“Milk alternatives or substitutes are made by blending or extracting plant material in water,” Pumper explains. “The plant materials then undergo homogenization and thermal treatment to enhance the physical stability and shelf-life of the final product.”

Although these plant-based beverages are often consumed as an alternative to dairy milk, they don’t have the same nutritional profile. “Dairy milk is standardized for protein, fat and carbohydrate content, but plant-based beverages are not,” Pumper says. “The nutrient profile of dairy milk contains 8 grams of protein per 240 milliliters (1 cup). In addition, the protein in dairy milk — whey and casein — contain all nine essential amino acids whereas plant-based milks lack important amino acids in their composition.”

Dairy milk is also fortified with vitamin D, and naturally contains:

Calcium.

— Phosphorous.

— Potassium.

— Magnesium.

— Riboflavin.

— Vitamin B12.

Vitamin A (except non-fat milk).

By contrast, “all of the nutrients that are found in almond and oat milk are fortified in considerable quantities,” Pumper says. “Almond and oat milk are generally nutritionally inferior to traditional dairy milk unless fortified. However, both alternative milk substitutes have their own unique benefits and drawbacks.”

Nutrient Comparisons

The nutritional profile of these items can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer depending on how they process these foods and which vitamins and minerals are added. The data below has been pulled from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Search database.

Oat Milk vs. Almond Milk

Nutrient per 8 ounce serving

Oat Milk (OATLY! brand original oat milk)

Almond Milk

(Winn-Dixie brand)

Calories

120

40.8

Protein

3 grams

1 gram

Fat

5 grams

3 grams

Carbs

16 grams

2 grams

Sugars

7 grams

1 gram

Fiber

1.9 grams

1 gram

Sodium

101 milligrams (4% DV)

180 milligrams (8% DV)

Calcium

350 milligrams, (25% DV)

451 milligrams (45% DV)

Potassium

389 milligrams (8% DV)

190 milligrams (5% DV)

Vitamin D

101 IU (25% DV)

101 IU (25% DV)

Vitamin A

0 IU (0% DV)

499 IU (10% DV)

Cholesterol

0 milligrams

0 milligrams

Iron

0.3 milligrams (2% DV)

0.7 milligrams (4% DV)

Selecting Oat Milk vs. Almond Milk: What to Consider

Cesar Sauza, a registered dietitian with AltaMed Health Services in Los Angeles, says that he wouldn’t classify almond or oat milk as being healthier exactly. “It depends on what the consumer is using these milk alternatives for. Unsweetened almond milk will offer a low-calorie, low-carb alternative to dairy, which could be most beneficial for individuals with diabetes or trying to lose weight.”

On the other hand, oat milk is higher in carbs since it’s coming from oats. “This is a good alternative for individuals with intolerances to dairy or those trying to avoid dairy overall,” he says.

In either case, “both oat and almond milk are good substitutes to milk and are worth a try for anyone trying to switch off of cow’s milk.”

If you’re trying to choose between oat milk or almond milk, Pumper recommends considering the nutrient composition, whether you like the taste and texture of one better than the other and the ingredients.

For example, sometimes these products have added sugar. Check the label to make sure you know what you’re consuming. Key nutrients to consider include:

Calories. Almond milk tends to be lower in calories than oat milk and may be a good option if you’re looking to manage your weight.

Fat. Fat levels tend to be similar in almond and oat milk, though because nuts, including almonds, are high in fat, almond milk will tend to be higher in fat, says Janette Wong, a registered dietitian nutritionist with Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, California. Still, “both are low in calories and have small amounts of saturated fat per serving.”

Protein. Plant-based milks tend to be lower in protein than dairy, but not always. “Many plant-based milks are enriched with calcium, vitamins and sometimes even protein to make it have a similar nutrient profile to dairy without the fat or calories,” Sauza says.

Sugars. When choosing an alternative beverage, opt for an unsweetened version to avoid added sugars. Oat and almond milk both have some naturally occurring sugars, but oat milk tends to have more. Parker cautions that oat milk can increase blood glucose levels more than almond milk.

Fiber. When consumed as whole foods, almonds are a great source of fiber. But when they’re turned into milky-beverages, much of the fiber is removed. Pumper notes that “oat milk is also a good source of dietary fiber — particularly beta-glucan — which helps reduce cholesterol and blood sugar levels thereby reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.”

Calcium. Plant-based milks don’t naturally contain much calcium but many are fortified. “Calcium is a limiting nutrient in oats because of the presence of phytic acid, an anti-nutrient that causes poor mineral bioavailability, or absorption,” Pumper explains. “Therefore, such products need to be fortified.”

Vitamins. Plant-based milks are typically fortified with a range of vitamins and minerals to bring their nutrient profile a little closer to what’s typically found in dairy milk. “Almond milk has a higher content of calcium, magnesium and vitamins A, D and E than oat milk, with appreciable quantities of potassium, sodium and sugar among the two alternative milk substitutes depending on the brand and variety,” Pumper says.

Other ingredients. Though almond and oat milk are essentially the raw items plus water, they may also contain stabilizers, flavorings, sugar or other additives. Check the label for specific details. “It’s best to choose unsweetened varieties to avoid added sugars and to look for brands that are free from carrageenan (a thickening agent) and artificial colors and flavors,” Pumper says.

[SEE: Top Plant-Based Diet Meal Delivery Services.]

If you have dietary restrictions, a dairy alternative might be the way to go. For example, “plant-based alternatives with added protein could be good options for vegetarians or vegans if you’re not meeting protein needs in your diet,” Sauza explains.

If you’re allergic to dairy or you’ve got difficulty digesting dairy, such as occurs with lactose intolerance, almond or oat milk can make a great milk substitute. “For many individuals dairy causes inflammation and GI issues they may not be aware of since dairy has always been part of their diet,” Sauza explains. Because of this, he recommends that “anyone with stomach or GI issues or conditions to cut off dairy first from their diet” and see how you feel.

Parker notes that if you have a nut allergy, you should opt for oat milk instead of almond milk.

Taste and Texture

There’s also a strong element of personal preference involved with selecting the best milk. “Oat milk is known for its smooth, creamy texture and balanced flavor, much like that of dairy milk, which makes it beneficial in espresso-based drinks and for both cooking and baking,” Pumper says. But Wong adds that creaminess is supplemented in many cases by “a small amount of oil, usually sunflower oil, to make it creamy.” So again, read the label.

Almond milk also has a “smooth, creamy texture and neutral flavor closely resembling dairy milk, though some brands may have more almond-forward notes,” Pumper says.

And if you don’t like the taste or flavor of almond or oat milk, there’s a whole universe of other plant-based milks that have become widely available recently including:

— Soy milk.

— Rice milk.

— Cashew milk.

— Coconut milk.

— Flaxseed milk.

— Hazelnut milk.

— Hemp seed milk.

— Macadamia nut milk.

— Peanut milk.

— Pecan milk.

— Quinoa milk.

— Sesame milk.

— Walnut milk.

Each one of these products has its own nutritional profile. “Given the wide variety of plant-based milk alternatives on the market, the best approach is to read the nutrition label making sure to choose a low-sugar option, higher in calcium and vitamins, and a smaller ingredient list,” Sauza says. “The more ingredients used for the plant milk typically means more added artificial ingredients, fillers, preservatives, added sugars and more.”

Wong adds that “soy milk and pea-based milk tend to be higher in protein compared to other plant milks. Oat milk may also be high in protein, but varies depending on the brand. Therefore, it’s important to choose a fortified plant-based milk.” She encourages you to “be adventurous, and explore the options available at your grocery stores.”

It’s also worth noting that all of the plant-based milk alternatives tend to be more expensive than conventional dairy milk. Look for sales when trying a new type or brand of plant-based milk.

[See: 11 Cheap Plant-Based Meals.]

Other Concerns

For some people, the desire to select a plant-based milk is driven by concerns for the environment. To this end, Wong notes that “production of plant-based milk is relatively more sustainable than that of dairy milk since studies on the production of dairy milk have shown to have the greatest environmental impact when considering land use, greenhouse gas emissions, pollution and energy requirements for raising dairy cows.” When it comes to the sustainable farming practices and creating less environmental impact, it seems that plants may be better than animals.

Lastly, Pumper notes that while plant-based milks are often considered a healthy alternative to dairy milk, they “shouldn’t be considered nutritional substitutes for breast milk, infant formula and cow’s milk during infancy and childhood. Breast milk and infant formula should not be replaced with plant-based milk because developing babies require specific calories and nutrients that these types of milk provide.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children between the ages of one and two consume whole cow’s milk. Substituting a plant-based milk for animal-based dairy products in babies and young children could lead to nutritional deficiencies.

More from U.S. News

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Oat Milk vs. Almond Milk: Which Is Better? originally appeared on usnews.com

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This content was republished with permission from CNN.

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