Last updated on July 19, 2021.
You might have swapped dairy milk in your daily dose of coffee with oat milk, but this super popular plant-based milk is not just for coffee — it is a dairy alternative for people who are lactose intolerant and a magic ingredient for many creative recipes coming on the way. Oat milk has become more accessible even at your local supermarkets, thanks to its rising popularity in the grocery lists of many. Not only is oat milk delicious with its smooth, silky texture and distinctive flavor, but it also offers numerous health benefits. Let’s explore the health benefits of this dairy-free, nut-free, lactose-free, soy-free and plant-based milk.
Oat milk is full of nutrients
Oat milk contains a variety of nutrients with a rich source of minerals and vitamins. Oat milk is produced by blending preferably old-fashioned gluten-free rolled oats with water, then straining away the oats from the milk. In this process, some nutrients are retained in the strained oats and absent in oat milk, which thus is usually fortified with minerals and vitamins to simulate the nutritional benefits of dairy milk and to replace the loss during production. For instance, vitamin A, B2, B12 and D, as well as calcium are commonly used to enrich commercial oat milk.
As research shows, when compared to other types of milk, oat milk usually has more calories, carbohydrates and fibers, but less proteins due to its poor digestibility with the existence of a trypsin inhibitor in oats. It is noteworthy of the relatively low protein content in oat milk if it is used to completely replace dairy milk intake, especially for vegans. In that case, other plant sources such as legumes and nuts can be consumed to make up the protein uptake and ensure intake of the whole spectrum of essential amino acids (the basic unit of protein) for growth and repair of cells.
Oat milk can lower blood cholesterol level
In addition to minerals and vitamins, oat milk is unique for its high fiber content which is two times that of dairy milk and other plant-based milk, with a particularly high level of soluble fiber beta-glucans. Beta-glucans in oats help lower blood cholesterol level by binding to cholesterol, especially the “bad” lower density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, to reduce its absorption. If there is too much cholesterol in the blood, it may potentially cause hyperlipidemia, atherosclerosis (accumulation and deposition of cholesterol in the inner wall of arteries) and even heart attack. A 250ml glass of oat milk provides one-third of the daily requirement of beta-glucans and protects against heart diseases.
In a 5-week clinical trial study, participants who drank oat milk were shown to have significantly lower blood total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol than those who drank the control drink, rice milk. The decrease in LDL cholesterol level was even more remarkable in participants who started off with a high blood cholesterol level.
Oat milk can improve bone health
Although oat milk does not naturally contain calcium, an essential mineral to promote growth and development, it is often fortified with both calcium and vitamin D. Calcium is the major component of bone that is responsible for its structure and strength, whilst vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of calcium, both being essential to promote bone health. A symposium on “Diet and bone health” published by Cambridge University Press stated that calcium and vitamin D deficiency will lower bone mineral density and increase risk of bone fracture and osteoporosis (hollow and porous bone). Women after menopause experience a rapid drop in bone calcium level due to bone thinning induced by the reduced estrogen (sex hormone) level. Thus, it is recommended for menopausal women and children going through growth spurt to drink oat milk fortified with calcium and vitamin D regularly to maintain bone health.
Oat milk contains prebiotics
Another health benefit offered by the high fiber content in oat milk is prebiotics. Prebiotics is often confused with probiotics. So what is prebiotics exactly? According to a study on functional cereal-based beverages, prebiotics are identified as food consisting of natural fibers that improves gut health by promoting the growth and activity of certain microbiota in the colon. Oat milk, in particular its fiber residuals, possess prebiotic properties which make it indigestible in the upper gastrointestinal tract, effective in enhancing diversity of beneficial gut bacteria and improving immunity of the host. Additionally, prebiotics in oat milk fiber residuals lower the risk of diseases, such as colorectal cancer, obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Next time when you prepare your homemade oat milk, remember not to toss the fiber residuals away, but store it in the refrigerator and save it for your next batch of cookies, as an extra source of fiber for better gut health.
Oat milk has great sources of vitamin B
Oat milk is usually fortified with vitamin B, specifically riboflavin (B2) and vitamin B12. Vitamin B is a group of essential micronutrients that plays important roles in normal body functionings. A significant role of vitamin B is to metabolize energy from food to fuel different body processes, such as the production of new blood cells, skin cells, brain cells and other body tissues. Furthermore, besides calcium and vitamin D, vitamin B12 can also lower the risk of osteoporosis.
Is oat milk for everyone?
Oat milk is not suitable for celiac disease patients because oat milk is not gluten-free unless they are made with certified gluten-free oats. Although oats are naturally gluten-free, oat milk may be produced in the same factory as other gluten-containing food products. Nonetheless, celiac patients need not to completely exclude oat milk from their plant-based milk options, they just have to make sure to always look for the “gluten free” label when choosing oat milk.
What is bad about oat milk?
Oat milk contains relatively higher levels of carbohydrates and calories than other plant-based milk. Despite the fact that most of the carbohydrates in unflavored oat milk are natural sugars, it may not be suitable for people who are losing weight to drink oat milk on a daily basis and it is best to choose an unsweetened option for weight management.
How long does oat milk last after opening?
Around 4–7 days. Unopened oat milk can be stored for a couple of months, while opened oat milk must be refrigerated and consumed within 4-7 days.