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October 6, 2023

Is Oat Milk Inflammatory? 8 Milk Alternatives (& What To Avoid)

Explore the pros and cons of oat milk and what to consider when choosing a milk alternative, such as taste, nutrition, and allergy concerns.
Medically Reviewed
Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Danielle Desroche

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Contents

While the argument and decision of whether dairy is bad for you is very personal, many people with autoimmune diseases choose to omit traditional dairy products from their diet. Plans designed to help mitigate symptoms and root causes of autoimmune diseases, such as the autoimmune protocol or the low FODMAP diet, generally suggest getting rid of dairy either for a short elimination phase or from your food choices altogether.

This leads to a search for plant-based dairy milk alternatives — and this is where oat milk comes in. 

While soy milk and almond milk are two well-known alternatives, oat milk has rapidly become one of the most popular options. With its rising popularity, many people wonder: Is oat milk really a healthy option? (Source, Source, Source)

The Pros and Cons of Oat Milk

The science behind oat milk is not as clear-cut as it may seem at first glance. While oats are praised for anti-inflammatory properties and nutritional components, it's important to be aware of commercial processing variations that can affect health benefits of oat milk. The response to drinking oat milk can vary depending on the specific ingredients, especially for those with autoimmune conditions. 

Allergy & Vegan Friendly

Oat milk is widely consumed as a milk alternative for 3 main reasons: it’s dairy-free, it’s vegan, and it’s generally considered to be allergy friendly. Being a dairy alternative, it is suitable for lactose intolerant individuals, those with dairy allergies, or people eliminating dairy products from their diet. It is also plant-based, making it suitable for vegans and vegetarians. Oat milk is also free of many common allergens such as tree nuts, peanuts, and soy, and can be a good option if you have allergies or sensitivities to these foods. (Source, Source, Source)

oats in a bowl

Nutrition

Whole oats, the main ingredient in oat milk after water, contain a variety of nutrients that may help combat inflammation. One such nutrient is beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber that has been shown to lower cholesterol levels and boost heart health. Oats themselves also contain antioxidants such as avenanthramides, which may have anti-inflammatory properties. Additionally, most commercially available oat milks are fortified with vitamins and minerals, commonly including calcium, vitamin A, vitamin B12, and vitamin D. (Source, Source)

Oat milk is generally higher in fiber than other milk alternatives. However, it is also generally higher in calories and than some other alternative milk options (when unsweetened versions are compared). Typically, oat milk contains less protein than some milks, such as soy, but more than others, such as rice milk. 

Health Risks & Inflammation

Commercial oat milk is typically not just made from oats and water. As we’ll explore later, there are many ingredients added to commercial oat milks that make them more shelf-stable or taste better, but that may not be the best for inflammation or health. Some of these additives might provoke inflammatory responses in certain individuals, especially if consumed in large quantities or if the person has specific sensitivities. 

The inflammatory responses to these ingredients are highly individual and can vary widely between people — some may react negatively to certain foods that others can tolerate without issues. So while oats themselves may have anti-inflammatory properties, other ingredients in oat milk could potentially counteract these benefits.

Pesticides and Herbicides

Many oat-based products have been found to be contaminated with glyphosate, an herbicide linked to various diseases and toxic effects. Other pesticides have also been detected in low concentrations in several types of milk alternatives. While the science on the health effects of these substances isn’t always straightforward, many people opt to steer clear. (Source, Source)

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Gluten Contamination and Cross-Reactivity

Additional concerns with oat milk arise from potential gluten contamination. Unless specifically labeled gluten free, oats might be processed in facilities that also handle gluten-containing grains. For individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities, this contamination could trigger an inflammatory response. While this is considered an issue related to gluten and not specifically to oats or oat milk, it should nonetheless be a caution for consuming oat milk if you have celiac disease or sensitivity to gluten. (Source)

In addition to being prone to cross contamination with wheat, oats contain a protein that may result in cross-reactivity issues. People who react to gluten might be more likely to react to a protein found in oats called avenin, which is similar to the gliadin component of gluten and can activate the same gluten-reactive T-cells. Celiacs and those who are sensitive to gluten often benefit from getting rid of oats while in their initial gluten elimination phase and then reintroducing them carefully to make sure cross-reactivity is not an issue. (Source, Source)

8 milk alternative

Comparing Oat Milk and Other Milk Alternatives

In addition to oat milk, there are many popular alternative milks, including almond, soy, coconut, hemp, cashew, flax, pea, and rice milks. Each type has a unique profile in terms of taste, nutrition, and allergenic considerations.

Oat milk is known for its creamy and naturally sweet flavor, and is often fortified with vitamins and minerals. It has the added benefit of naturally containing more fiber than most other milk alternatives, but is generally lower in protein. Oat milk can also be more expensive than other alternative milk options, depending on the region and brand.

In terms of taste, along with oat milk, cashew and hemp milks tend to be creamier, while rice milk is lighter and sweeter, and flax milk has a more neutral taste.

When comparing nutrition profiles, oat milk stacks in the middle:

  • Oat milk provides the most fiber out of alternative milks.
  • Soy, pea, and hemp milks generally offer the most protein compared to other alternatives.
  • Both flax and hemp provide a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and are generally considered sustainable, where many other milk alternatives have more inflammatory oils and require more land or water use.
  • Cashews and almonds raise environmental concerns due to the intensive growing and processing of nuts.
  • Rice milk is often lower in macronutrients; it is often chosen by those with multiple food allergies but usually has a greater sugar content, and thus a higher glycemic index.

(Source, Source, Source, Source)

Each type of milk has its own set of allergenic considerations, so it's important to read labels carefully and consider individual dietary needs when choosing an alternative milk. Oat, hemp, flax, and rice milks may be suitable for those avoiding nuts, soy, and dairy, but individual sensitivities, such as gluten cross-contamination, must be considered.

Ingredients to Avoid in Oat Milk and Other Milk Alternatives

Choosing the right oat milk or other alternative milk often goes beyond taste and nutritional content — it's also about what is not included. With the increasing number of dairy substitutes, understanding ingredient labels is essential. From added sugars to preservatives, various ingredients might raise concerns for some individuals due to their health issues, dietary preferences, or allergies. Whether you're watching your sugar intake, have digestive sensitivities, or are following an autoimmune friendly diet, knowing what to avoid can be just as crucial as knowing what to look for.

Added Sugar

Many commercial milk alternatives contain added sugars to improve taste, which can increase the calorie content and might not align with specific dietary protocols for managing autoimmune conditions. Compared to some other milk alternatives, oat milk typically has more sugar and a higher glycemic index, which can cause a more significant spike in blood sugar levels. This can lead to an inflammatory response or insulin resistance in some people, particularly if consumed in large quantities or in the context of a diet high in other high glycemic index foods. Ingredients to look out for include sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, and cane sugar. (Source, Source, Source)

Artificial Sweeteners

While some consider them “better” than added sugar, artificial sweeteners can be some of the worst foods for your gut health — and foods that are detrimental to the gut are tightly linked to autoimmune conditions and other health problems. Ingredient names to look for include aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin. Milk alternatives that are sweetened with monk fruit or stevia could be better options. (Source, Source)

cashews, oats, almonds, and

Inflammatory Oils

Refined oils used in many milk alternatives can be inflammatory and are associated with a variety of health issues. Fats are not inherently bad for you, but the process of refining oil can remove beneficial compounds such as vitamins, phytosterols, and polyphenols, while adding trace metals, petroleum distillates, and traces of organic solvents. Commonly used refined oils in milk alternatives include soybean oil, rapeseed oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, and safflower oil. (Source)

Processing and Additives

Many milk alternatives can be considered ultra-processed foods due to the amount of processing they undergo as well as additives they may contain, such as preservatives, artificial flavors, stabilizers, and emulsifiers. One such additive is the thickener and emulsifier carrageenan, which can cause digestive issues. (Source, Source, Source)

One way to avoid ultra-processed foods but still drink milk alternatives is to make your own. Nut milks can be more complicated, but making oat milk can be as simple as blending oats and water together and straining out the solids.

The Bottom Line

While the components of oats themselves have anti-inflammatory properties, the overall impact of consuming oat milk or other milk alternatives depends on factors such as the specific product and your individual health and sensitivities. Reading labels is vital to identify and avoid ingredients in milk alternatives that may negatively affect your health. Understanding what you're looking for — and why — can help you make informed choices that align with your dietary needs, preferences, and values. 

If you have specific dietary restrictions or health conditions, or want to explore your options, working with WellTheory’s Care team can provide personalized guidance.

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There’s more to healing than medication.
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A list of nutrient dense foods
How to fight inflammation
How to prevent disease with food

There’s more to healing than medication.
Identify ways to improve your autoimmune care and find out if WellTheory is right for you.

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Evaluate Your Care