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Two Minor Figures oat milk bottles next to each other.

Wait, is oat milk actually bad for you?

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The trendiest alternative milk on the block might not be good for you, and has fallen victim to criticism from health experts and nutritionists.

Just some months ago, you couldn’t enter a coffeeshop without hearing the words ‘oat latte’. The alternative milk, more favourable than its predecessors almond and soya milk, soared in popularity around 2015 — largely due to consumers becoming more health and environmentally conscious (more on this below). But now it seems oat milk might not be good for you, after all.

I, myself, was a proud pioneer of oat milk, considering myself better than my dairy-drinking counterparts, despite happily scoffing cheese and chocolate on a daily basis. My mum and dad would often complain when they visited me, stating the drink made their tea taste and look like brick water.

Yet despite the negative judgment from boomers like these, the oat milk business experienced rapid growth — in fact, UK sales increased by over 100% between 2019 and 2020, according to Mintel. Paired with trendy branding from the likes of Oatly and Minor Figures, back then, it seemed like oat milk was ready to take over the world — a huge win for those who’d campaigned against the dairy industry.

Fast forward to 2024, though, and it appears the oat milk industry is having somewhat of a reckoning.

Read more: a nutritionist’s guide to healthy snacks that deliver a sweet fix

 

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Why is oat milk being criticised?

“Well, well, well, look who’s come crawling back,” mocked actor Andrea Valls on TikTok. “Had enough of her spiking your glucose, have you?”. The humourous video in response to the decrease in popularity in oat milk comes after reports that the drink could potentially lead to weight loss and cause a spike in blood sugar (which could be an issue for diabetics, in particular), as well as containing little to no protein. Since then, several other viral videos taking down the milk have surfaced, captioned with the likes of ‘The truth about oat milk’ and ‘Oat milk is the biggest scam on the planet’.

As with everything, though, we always recommend doing your own research on something rather than taking everything on the internet factually. So, we spoke to two nutritionists to get the lowdown on whether you really need to switch to another milk (again).

Is oat milk good for you? What the experts say

“Cow’s milk is a nutrient-dense option providing high-quality protein — essential for muscle repair — and natural sources of calcium, vitamin D and B12, both of which are crucial for bone health and immune function,” says Marilia Chamon, a registered nutritional therapist and founder of Gutfulness Nutrition. “Oat milk, while a good alternative for those with a lactose intolerance or dairy allergies, is naturally lower in protein and essential nutrients.”

According to Marrilia, the main differences between oat milk and cow’s milk is its nutritional and sugar content.

“Like anything, there are pros and cons to both options,” says Jacek Syzmanowski, a certified nutritionist and sports nutrition consultant at Torokhtiy Weightlifting. “Oat milk has lower levels of saturated fats and is naturally free from cholesterol, which is very important for heart health and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, cow’s milk is richer in protein, which is essential for muscle repair and growth, and provides a natural source of calcium, which is vital for bone health and preventing osteoporosis.”

Can oat milk really spike blood sugar?

“The process of converting oats into milk breaks down starches into simpler sugars, which can elevate its glycemic index and lead to quicker absorption and potential spikes in blood sugar levels,” explains Marilia. This could potentially lead to energy crashes throughout the day, unlike with cow’s milk, which in most cases only contain natural sugars. It’s worth noting, though, that consuming dairy can cause inflammation in some people (those who are lactose intolerant, for example), which can also cause energy crashes.

Which alternative milk is best for sustainability?

Of course, it’s not just our health that’s a driving factor in our choice of milk, but the environment, too. Many of us made the switch to oat milk over concerns for the environment, as it has a relatively low carbon footprint, and uses up to 80% less land than cow’s milk to produce.

Oat milk brand Oatly recently used this fact to its advantage, using it to challenge ‘Big Dairy’ about its environmental footprint in a marketing campaign that saw Oatly pay for advertisement space for dairy companies willing to share the full climate impact of their products on a designated microsite (you can see the campaign here). Oat milk is crafted from oats grown in cooler climates, and is therefore not associated with deforestation in developing countries.

With the milk wars now in full swing, Big Dairy then hit back at Oatly with a campaign that saw US actress and comedian Aubrey Plaza parodying the slew of alternative milks on the market while standing in a forest promoting a fake brand titled ‘wood milk’. You can see this campaign here.

So, in the battle of the milks, who takes the crown, and which one should you be drinking? In reality, both sides have valid arguments, so the decision is up to you.

Read more: These are the health and wellness trends to expect in 2024

 

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