You're over the moon for oat milk, and we get why: The creamy milk alternative is a great option for vegans as well as people with an allergy or intolerance (or dislike) to dairy, soy and nut milks, Maxine Yeung, RD, CPT and founder of The Wellness Whisk, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
And with its thick, rich texture that's surprisingly similar to dairy milk, oat milk is a supreme substitute in frothy lattes or even baked goods.
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Though oat milk offers an abundance of advantages, its benefits can go bust if you're not choosing a healthy variety. Here, Yeung shares six common traps to avoid when purchasing your next carton of oat milk.
1. Choosing Oat Milks With Added Sugar
Sneaky sources of sugar are added to countless foods to enhance flavor, and oat milk is no exception. But sugary drinks — which make up half the added sugar in the American diet per the American Heart Association (AHA) — are detrimental to your overall health.
"In general, you want to limit added sugars, especially in beverages, as they're associated with an increase in many chronic diseases," Yeung says. Indeed, the AHA recommends getting no more than 25 grams to 36 grams of added sugar per day. "Given that sugar is added to many foods and beverages, this amount can add up quickly," Yeung says.
Oat milk contains carbs, some in the form of sugar, and so it's naturally sweet, Yeung says. So you'll want to aim for zero grams of added sugar per serving in the best oat milks. "Always read the nutrition facts label to assess the sugar content in your oat milk and choose unsweetened varieties when possible."
2. Opting for Flavored Oat Milks
"Flavored oat milks — like chocolate and vanilla — likely contain more sugar and salt than unsweetened oat milk," Yeung says.
Again, always read the nutrition facts label, and opt for unsweetened and low-sodium varieties. As far as sodium, try to stick to less than 140 milligrams per serving, Yeung says.
3. Choosing Oat Milks With Inflammatory Oils
Many oat milk brands list oils in their ingredients, which serve as emulsifiers. But here's the thing: "Oils, such as corn, safflower, sunflower, soy and vegetable oil contain high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids, which can be pro-inflammatory if consumed in high amounts," Yeung says.
"If you already eat a lot of foods high in omega-6s or tend to drink large amounts of oat milk, choose a variety that does not contain inflammatory oils to help limit the amount of omega-6s you consume overall," Yeung says.
"Conversely, oils such as olive and avocado oil, which contain some omega-3 fatty acids, are considered anti-inflammatory," she adds.
4. Buying Oat Milks That Aren’t Fortified
While homemade oat milk or non-fortified products still offer a bit of protein, fat and carbohydrates, you don't get the bonus of extra vitamins and minerals.
This is especially important if you're using oat milk as a substitute for dairy milk. If you're on a vegan or vegetarian diet, make sure to choose a brand that's fortified in the following nutrients found in dairy milk:
- vitamin D
- vitamin B12
5. Buying Oat Milks With Many Preservatives
Watch out for a long list of ingredients that possess a plethora of preservatives. "Some brands add many preservatives to help the oat milk be more shelf-stable," Yeung says.
"While most food additives are deemed as 'generally recognized as safe' (GRAS) by the FDA, you may want to avoid some if you notice any side effects," Yeung says. For example, some people may experience gastrointestinal issues with carrageenan, an additive derived from seaweed, and xanthan gum, she adds.
Instead, try opting for a less-processed oat milk with minimal ingredients.
6. Choosing Oat Milk That Contains Gluten
Though oats are naturally gluten-free, it's possible that they can be cross-contaminated with wheat products (or other gluten-containing grains) during processing and manufacturing, Yeung says.
Consequently, people with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance should be cautious when purchasing oat milk (and all oat-based products). "Look for brands that use certified gluten-free oats," Yeung says.