Plant-based milk alternatives are an exploding industry around the world. Food sensitivities, environmental concerns, and changing dietary preferences are catapulting non-dairy beverages into phenomenal growth. Oat milk is a new player on the field, and it is rapidly gaining ground from cow’s milk and the previously sought-after nut milks. Advocates tout oat milk's neutral taste, creamy texture, and digestibility. Its benefits don’t stop at the taste buds, though. "Milk" from oats contains many properties that reinforce the heart and immune system and beautify skin.

What is Oat Milk?

Oat milk is simply whole groats or steel-cut oats blended with water and strained. The leftover pulp holds most of the protein and fiber, but the resulting “milk” still contains substantial nutrients. Most commercial brands contain other ingredients for flavor, thickness, and longevity. The texture of it is creamier than nut milk because the oats absorb more water than nuts and more of the food passes through the cloth.

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The Story of Oat Milk

Food scientist Rickard Öste developed oat milk in Sweden. He founded Oatly in 1994 to distribute his product, but the beverage did not catch on until Toni Petersson became CEO and vamped up marketing in the early 2010s. The milk quickly became Europe’s second most popular non-dairy alternative. Oatly sales reps introduced oat milk to American specialty coffee shops in 2016. Baristas and customers have hailed its foaming capability, creaminess, and sustainability. The demand for oat milk has caught suppliers by pleasant surprise. Sales have skyrocketed by 425 percent since 2017, zooming past coconut, pea, hemp, and macadamia nut milk.

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Allergen Alternative

Food allergies are a growing public health issue, affecting about 15 million Americans. Dairy, nuts, wheat, and soy are major culprits behind this epidemic. Oat milk is vegan, lactose-free, soy-free, nut-free, and mostly gluten-free. It is an ideal alternative for people with food allergies such as lactose intolerance or gluten sensitivity.

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Oat Milk vs. Cow’s Milk

Oat milk has slightly fewer calories than regular milk but almost twice the carbohydrates. It does not contain as much protein, although its protein content is higher than most other plant-based milk. Unlike cow’s milk, oat milk changes texture when heated. For this reason, milk from oats cannot equally replace the dairy counterpart in recipes that require heat.

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Oat Milk vs. Almond Milk

A lot of sources are talking about the environmental impacts of almond milk. The Water Footprint Network reports that growing almonds requires six times as much water as growing oats. Almond milk has fewer calories and carbohydrates than oat milk but also less fiber and protein. Commercial varieties of both beverages typically come enriched with vitamins and minerals. However, oat milk has more riboflavin.

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Benefits: Heart Health

Oats have a well-deserved reputation for contributing to cardiovascular health. They contain beta-glucan, a type of fiber that helps lower cholesterol. Several studies demonstrate that oat beverages retain this capability. The Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism published a study showing consuming oat milk for five weeks reduced bad and total cholesterol levels more than rice milk. The University of Lund in Sweden reported similar results from consuming oat milk over four weeks.

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Immunity Booster

A 2016 study published in Frontiers in Immunology links vitamins A and D to immune response and cell function. Low levels appear to correlate to autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease. Many commercial oat milks are fortified with these nutrients, which can strengthen the immune system and help fend off infections and illnesses.

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Skin and Hair Care

Oat milk can nourish you inside and out. Its water and lipid content make it an effective moisturizer. It also helps remove impurities and dead skin cells. The milk can enhance beauty as a body wash and relieve bumps and itchiness after shaving. Oat milk applied to the hair as a rinse or leave-in conditioner can strengthen the hair and soothe dry scalp.

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Make Your Own

Oat milk is quickly becoming easier to find in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, but it is quite easy and economical to make your own at home.

  • Combine 1 cup gluten-free rolled oats with 4 cups water (use less for creamier milk) in a high-speed blender. Add a pinch of salt.
  • Blend for 1 minute. Overblending may result in a slimy texture.
  • Pour blended mixture over a large pitcher or bowl covered with cheesecloth; repeat.
  • Place in a sealed container; refrigerate for up to five days or freeze for up to one month.

Spruce up your oat milk with these tasty options:

  • Sweetness: 1 whole pitted date or 1 tablespoon of maple syrup (or more to taste)
  • Vanilla: 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Chocolate milk: 2 tablespoons cocoa or cacao powder
  • Berry milk: 1/4 cup fresh or frozen berries

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A few caveats are in order if you plan to purchase commercial oat milk. Some varieties come with sugars, additives, and preservatives that detract from the product’s natural health potential. Also, many brands use oats that were cross-contaminated with gluten-containing grains. Read labels to ensure that your choice is free of ingredients you would rather avoid.

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