Whether you’re vegan, lactose intolerant or have a milk allergy, or just don’t like the taste and/or texture of cow’s milk, there are tons of milk alternatives to choose from these days.
But with plant-based brands offering a greater variety than ever of dairy nuts and legumes, in a range of flavours, fat content and sweetness levels, knowing which the option is the best can be difficult. So we asked nutrition experts to give us the lowdown on two of the most popular: almond milk and oat milk.
Almond milk, which has been around since the Middle Ages, “is a versatile plant-based alternative to milk that provides a wealth of nutrients at the same time,” according to Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com. “Those who are kosher may also appreciate almond milk as it can be used in recipes that can be consumed where dairy would not otherwise be permitted.”
Oat milk, first produced in the 1990s, “is a nice ‘gateway’ alternative to milk,” says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, nutrition expert and author of Smoothies and Juices: A Kitchen for Prevention and Treatment. “It has a texture and mouthfeel that is very similar to cow’s milk, and the taste is very neutral.”
While none offer as powerful a nutritional punch as cow’s milk—which is full of essential nutrients like protein, fat (except skim), calcium, and vitamins D and A—each boasts some nice dietary benefits. So which came out on top in our head-to-head comparison?
Almond Milk vs. Oat Milk: Nutrition
In general, the main differences between almond milk and oat milk are energy (calories) and carbohydrates, with almond milk offering less of each. Oat milk also contains slightly higher amounts of fiber, protein and fat than almond milk. Some brands, such as Almond Breeze and Oatly, fortify their drinks with key micronutrients found in cow’s milk, making both options significant sources of calcium, vitamin D and vitamin A.
Here are the nutritional facts for one cup of Blue Diamond’s Almond Breeze and the unsweetened and chilled versions of their Oatly milks:
- Calories: 30
- Fat: 2.5 grams
- Protein: 1 gram
- Carbohydrates: 1 gram
- Sodium: 170 milligrams
- Fiber: less than 1 gram
- Calcium: 450 milligrams (35% of the recommended daily value -DV)
- Vitamin D: 5 micrograms (25% of the DV)
- Vitamin A: 160 micrograms (20% of the DV)
- Calories: 120
- Fat: 5 grams
- Protein: 3 grams
- Carbs: 16 grams
- Sodium: 100 milligrams
- Fiber: 2 grams
- Calcium: 350 milligrams (25% of the DV)
- Vitamin D: 3.6 micrograms (20% of the DV)
- Vitamin A: 150 micrograms (15% of the DV)
Almond milk pros and cons
- Almond milk is a good plant-based milk choice for people with lactose intolerance or milk or soy allergies and vegans.
- One cup of Blue Diamond’s Almond Breeze Unsweetened Milk provides 7.5 milligrams of vitamin E, which is 50% of the DV. “Almond milk is an excellent source of the antioxidant vitamin E, which can help support immune health and reduce the risk of heart disease,” says Kerry Gans, RDN, author of The dice for a small changeT and podcast host of The Kerry Report.
- It is lower in carbohydrates than cow’s milk, which can make it a good option for people with diabetes, especially if they want to consume carbohydrates from other sources during meals.
- Almond milk naturally contains heart-healthy unsaturated fats that can help manage cholesterol levels.
- Almond milk is not suitable for people with nut allergies as almonds fall into this category.
- It is low in both protein and calories. Almond milk provides the lowest amount of calories of all plant-based milks. Despite what diet culture says, calories are units of energy and it’s important to meet our energy needs at every meal.
- Not all almond milk brands fortify their milk with the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that cow’s milk provides, including vitamins D and A, as well as phosphorus and calcium.
- Almond milk is not the most environmentally friendly choice as it requires a significant amount of water to produce it.
Pros and cons of oat milk
- Oat milk is a good plant-based option for vegans and people with lactose intolerance, milk, soy or nut allergies. “Because it’s nut, peanut, and soy-free, most people can drink oat milk,” Gans says.
- Oat milk contains fiber. “Fiber can help lower cholesterol levels, prevent constipation and keep you full,” Gans says.
- It may be better for the environment, generating fewer greenhouse gases and using less water than other milks.
- Oat milk can offer other important micronutrients. One cup of Oatly milk contains 50% of the DV for vitamin B12 and 20% of the DV for phosphorus. Vitamin B12 is important for things like neurological functioning and red blood cell formation, and phosphorus is needed for healthy bones and teeth.
- Oat milk prices are more than twice the price of cow’s milk.
- Like almond milk brands, not all oat milk brands fortify their milk with calcium and phosphorus and vitamins D and A. If you buy micronutrient-free milk, it’s important to make sure you’re consuming them elsewhere.
- Although it has slightly more protein than almond milk, oat milk is still relatively low in protein, a macronutrient with multiple essential functions.
- To ensure blood sugar stability, the higher carbohydrate content of oat milk may require people with diabetes to be careful about balancing the milk with a source of protein and/or fat, such as a handful of nuts in a snack or an omelet within feeding.
Bottom line: Is oat milk or almond milk better for you?
In the end, choosing which milk alternative is better for you can be as simple as choosing what you like best and finding the most useful in your kitchen.
“Almond milk and oat milk aren’t that far apart in terms of nutritional composition, with oat milk being slightly higher in protein and fiber and almond milk being lower in calories,” Gans says. “The bigger difference would be the taste and versatility.”
Of course, there are exceptions related to health conditions. For example, if you have a nut allergy, oat milk is obviously your better option. Or if you prefer to drink milk on its own (without a protein source) and you have diabetes, almond milk is probably your better choice.
Best uses for almond milk and oat milk
Because oat milk and almond milk have different textures and flavors, each has its own natural culinary fit.
“Oat milk has a creamier consistency and lends itself better to lattes and cappuccinos, and its natural sweetness is better for baking,” says Gans. Like Gans, Largeman-Roth says she uses oat milk in sweeter foods and drinks like banana bread, muffins, pancakes, lattes and hot chocolate. “It also works in savory creations, as long as you choose unsweetened,” says Largeman-Roth. “It mixes well with other ingredients and has no off-flavors.”
On the other hand, almond milk’s subtle nutty flavor makes it perfect for spicier foods like pasta sauces and mashed potatoes—especially the unsweetened version. Gans likes it in cereal, and Gans and Taub-Dix suggest using it in smoothies. Depending on how sweet and flavorful you like your smoothies, you can use sweetened, unsweetened, vanilla, or chocolate versions. “Although I enjoy Almond Breeze in a glass, it pairs wonderfully with any fruit or vegetable when swirled into a smoothie,” says Taub-Dix.
Tips for buying almond and oat milk
Here are some factors to consider when making your choice in the milk aisle:
- Make sure it is fortified with certain micronutrients. This goes for both types of milk, as cow’s milk naturally provides calcium and phosphorus, as well as vitamins D and E. “If you avoid dairy, it’s easy to miss out on these key bone-building and immune-supporting nutrients,” says Largeman. – Roth.
- Think about your grocery budget. All plant-based milks are more expensive than cow’s milk, so consider which alternative makes sense and whether adjustments need to be made elsewhere in your grocery budget. “Because the price can vary, I suggest that comparison shopping includes the cost,” Gans says. If you are purchasing dairy alternatives without a medical need such as lactose intolerance, you may choose to purchase oat milk and/or almond milk in line with cow’s milk.
- Keep the protein in mind. Although we don’t need to focus too much on protein, it is a macronutrient that our bodies and brains need on a regular basis. Since both types of milk are relatively low in protein, you may need to add another protein source to your grocery cart to balance out your meals and/or snacks. “If you’re looking for a plant-based milk with more protein, you should look for one that’s a blend of oat and pea protein, like Ripple’s Oatmilk+ Protein, which has six grams of protein per serving,” says Largeman-Roth.
- Consider cross contamination. Although oats are gluten-free, they may be processed in facilities that also process gluten-containing foods. “Make sure you’re buying oat milk that’s certified gluten-free by a third party,” says Largeman-Roth.
- Keep culinary uses and expiration dates in mind. Consider the above common uses for each milk and decide which meals, snacks, or drinks you’re most likely to use your plant-based milk in. Next, think about how long you want your milk to last. “It’s also a great idea to buy foods with an extended shelf life,” says Taub-Dix, who stocks shelf-stable almond milk that can be stored for up to a year (unopened), while its refrigerated version lasts up to about 10 days.
- Ask yourself what you like. It’s an often-forgotten fact: consuming food and drink isn’t just about fueling our bodies and brains. This is one important way to enjoy life, so all things considered, choose the milk you like.
Caroline L. Young (she/her) is a nutrition consultant, yoga teacher and freelance health journalist. She is also the owner and founder of Whole Self Nutrition (WSN), LLC. Caroline has worked in the health and wellness field for over a decade and is passionate about breaking down the science of nutrition into relatable information. She loves helping people understand the truth about nutrition so they can have the healthiest possible relationship with food.
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