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The dairy-free milk aisle is more crowded than ever. Now the vegan staple can be made out of everything from hemp hearts to pea protein to flaxseeds and more. But there are two standouts that seemingly dominate the category: oat milk and almond milk. Peep the plant-based milk fridge and you'll find multiple cartons of each touting different health and flavor perks (calcium! extra-creamy! low-cal!)—which to choose? Let’s break down oat milk vs. almond milk once and for all.
Though oat milk is a relative newcomer to the plant-based scene, its naturally sweet taste and creamy texture have edged it closer in popularity to the almighty (read: best-selling) almond milk.
From an environmental perspective, that’s a good thing: Almond milk requires much more water to produce than oat milk (though both require less water than cow’s milk), which is extra troubling considering the U.S. gets most of its almonds from drought-plagued California.
While tasty and refreshing, almond milk may not be as nutritious as you think. In addition to providing almost no plant-based protein, it's often sweetened with sugar and only contains calcium if fortified, says Tony Castillo, RDN, a nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition.
In fact, dairy milk packs a ton of nutrition that plant-based milk falls short on. “Dairy is a rich source of various nutrients, particularly calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin B12, and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA,” explains Anya Rosen, RD, the founder of Birchwell Clinic.
That said, some non-dairy milk alternatives are fortified with these nutrients. And plant-based folks can make up for the difference by consuming other sources of calcium (e.g., kale or white beans), vitamin A (e.g., carrots or sweet potatoes), omega-3s (algae or seaweed), and supplementing with vitamins D and B12 as needed.
So if you truly prefer plant-based milk or follow a vegan diet, you can still clock in key nutrients typically filled by animal products. Looking for the healthiest non-dairy milk option—oat or almond? Women's Health asked nutrition experts to weigh in on these two popular varieties.
Meet the experts: Tony Castillo, RDN, is a nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition. Anya Rosen, RD, is the founder of Birchwell Clinic. Brittany Modell, RD, is a nutritionist and intuitive eating counselor.
This is how almond milk and oat milk nutrition stack up.
Nutritionally, oat milk and almond milk are quite different.
Here's what one cup of unsweetened oat milk looks like:
Fat: 1.5 g
Sodium: 120 mg
Carbs: 14 g
Sugar: 1 g
Fiber: 2 g
Protein: 4 g
And what one cup of unsweetened almond milk looks like:
Fat: 3 g
Sodium: 146 mg
Carbs: 1 g
Sugar: 0 g
Fiber: 0 g
Protein: 1 g
As you can see, oat milk is higher in—well, almost everything.
Why? Both milks are made by soaking either almonds or oats in water, and then blending and straining the mixture. While the process pulls just a bit of flavor and some white color out of the almonds, it pulls much more—especially carbs—out of the oats, says nutritionist Brittany Modell, RD.
Both milks are typically fortified with calcium and vitamin D, which are important for healthy bones and keeping a proper nutrient balance in your bloodstream and cells, adds Castillo.
Almond milk does have the perk, though, of being naturally high in vitamin E, which benefits your skin and immune system by reducing UV damage to the skin and helping your body fight off bacteria and viruses. It might also reduce your risk of chronic disease by going after disease-causing free radicals, Castillo says.
Oat milk definitely has pros and cons.
Here’s what you need to know about the positives and negatives of oat milk.
Creamy consistency. Because of its higher carb and calorie content, “oat milk provides a creamy consistency that almond milk does not provide,” Modell says. (In fact, it's probably the most comparable to cow's milk out of all your plant-based milk options.) That's why baristas have taken so quickly to the stuff; oat milk froths in a way that almond milk typically can’t.
Thickeners are not needed. Another perk of oat milk's naturally heavier texture: It also rarely contains thickeners (like carrageenan), which some scientists believe is harmful to the digestive tract. In animal models, carrageenan has been linked to cancers and intestinal ulcers, per a review in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
Stays fresh longer. Oat milk is also relatively shelf-stable, meaning it can last a really long time.
More sustainable. Finally, oat milk has a lower environmental impact and is more sustainable, notes Rosen.
Higher carb and calorie content. If you're watching your calories or strictly monitoring your carb intake (like people on the keto diet), consider how oat milk fits into your daily eats and keep an eye on your serving sizes.
Risk of cross-contamination. Gluten-free folks should also be careful about which product they buy. “Oats are naturally gluten-free,” Castillo says. “However, they can often be grown or processed [alongside gluten-containing grains], which can cause cross-contamination." If you have celiac or a gluten allergy, check your labels to make sure it's truly gluten-free.
Often contains inflammatory oils. Oat milk often contains added oils that may be inflammatory, like canola oil, notes Rosen.
Almond milk also has upsides and downsides.
Like oat milk, almond milk comes with its own set of pluses and minuses.
Fewer calories. As mentioned above, almond milk is still significantly lower in calories than oat milk, which is a plus if you want to limit how much of your daily calorie intake.
Fewer carbohydrates. Again, almond milk has a lower carb count compared to oat milk, which Rosen says won’t spike blood sugar.
Higher in healthy fats. Finally, almond milk is higher in healthy fats and fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin E.
Watery consistency: Unlike oat milk, almond milk has a less creamy and frothy consistency, notes Rosen, which leads many food manufacturers to use thickeners.
Thickeners: Though sustainability has become one of the biggest arguments against almond milk, concern about the thickeners used in the beverage has also brought it under fire. “The [questionable] additive in almond milk is carrageenan,” Castillo says. “Carrageenan is used to thicken almond milk and prevent separation, but there are concerns that it may cause inflammation and damage in the intestines." Castillo and other nutrition experts feel that more research will help clarify the impact carrageenan has on the body. Though there are several studies that use animals as subjects, a review in the Food & Function Journal of existing studies concluded there isn't enough evidence to determine the effects of carrageenan on the body.
Added sweeteners: Since almond milk doesn't offer the natural sweetness that oat milk does, it's often sweetened. Whether you're specifically monitoring your carbs or not, both Castillo and Modell always recommend opting for the unsweetened stuff.
So...is oat milk better for you than almond milk?
Ultimately, both almond milk and oat milk are fine choices.
If you’re looking for a low-calorie option and don’t care as much about consistency or flavor, almond milk will certainly do the trick, says Castillo. (Modell recommends Califia Farms Unsweetened Almond Milk or Malk Unsweetened Almond Milk, neither of which contain carrageenan.)
On the other hand, oat milk contains slightly more beneficial nutrients like protein and fiber that help keep you full for longer, so it’s a good bet in bowls or smoothies, he says. Oat milk's flavor and froth also make it a much better cow’s milk substitute in coffee. (Modell recommends Oatly Oat Drink Skinny or Elmhurst Unsweetened Milked Oats.)
Regardless of whether you opt for oat or almond milk, look for an unsweetened bottle that contains as few ingredients as possible.
The bottom line: Both oat milk and almond milk have pros and cons, so drink whichever tastes best to you.
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