How Does Oat “Milk” Compare to Real Milk?

Health-conscious consumers are beginning to turn their attention to oat milk. One of the first alternative milk options on the market, oat milk was slow to gain a following. In recent years, however, more and more consumers are turning to oat milk due to the belief that it is comparable to real milk without the perceived issues of options for the lactose sensitive or the sustainability of dairy production. 

However, oat “milk” is not milk, and below recognizes these differences not just in real milk and oat milk, but also amongst various brands of the alternative beverage. Dairy milk has a good and still improving record in regards to sustainability and a nutrition package that is hard to replace with a selection of other foods, never mind attempting to replace these benefits with one milk alternative. Here’s what you need to know about oat milk options. 

The process of making oat milk varies from brand to brand. Generally, oat milk soaks oats in water before either pulverizing the oats in a blender or using an enzyme that breaks the oats down before being strained and packaged. 

A quick search online shows a half-gallon of oat milk is more than double the price of a half-gallon of real milk, and double that of even a gallon of milk! 

Oat milk doesn’t have any glaring faults against the environment, though that may change as its popularity grows. Oats are commonly used as cow feed as a sustainable option in crop rotation in conserving soil health and water usage. In fact, of all of the plants turned into milk alternatives, oats generally use the least water, especially when compared to almond milk.  

Another big draw of oat milk is its taste and texture, designed to be as similar to that of real milk as possible. After all, it doesn’t matter if a food is touted as sustainable if consumers find it unappealing. 

From a nutritional standpoint, oat milk may be more nutrient-dense than almond milk but not as nutritious as soy milk, depending on the brand of each of these alternatives. This makes it difficult to easily compare to dairy. Oat milk’s nutrition and ingredient list can vary greatly from brand to brand, including what nutrients it is fortified with, while all dairy milk is fortified with vitamin A and vitamin D. Some brands of oat milk have more than ten ingredients, including ingredients like canola oil or stabilizers and emulsifiers like sunflower lecithin, a popular choice for improving the texture of plant-based beverages, while dairy milk contains 3 ingredients: milk and its fortified vitamin A and vitamin D. (Lactose-free milk has one additional ingredient—an enzyme that breaks down the sugar affecting those with lactose intolerance.) 

Oat milk and dairy milk also differ in carbohydrate content per 8 oz serving. Oat milk can have up to 24 grams of carbohydrates per serving, while dairy milk has 12 grams. Some varieties of oat milk also contain added sugar, while real milk has no added sugar unless flavored. (Again, real milk naturally contains a sugar called lactose.) Homemade oat milk typically uses maple syrup or dates as a sweetener, while store-bought oat milk touts little to no added sugars, yet—depending on the brand’s process—oat milk can contain maltose, or malt sugar, created during the production of oat milk, an important ingredient to remember if limiting sugar intake.  

Though many believe that oat milk is a comparable alternative to real milk, these products vary greatly by brand in ingredients and nutrition. This highlights why it’s important to carefully read and compare nutrition labels and ingredient lists instead of the misleading claims. Once done, real milk is the clear choice.