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The explosion of dairy-free “milk” alternatives is hard to ignore. You have almond milk, cashew milk, flax milk, pea milk, soy milk, rice milk, coconut milk and now oat milk on the scene.
Drinking plant-based milk is a much more sustainable way to enjoy milk, and my vegan friends swear by it. The approximately 270 million dairy cows in the world put a lot of wear and tear on our precious planet.
Dairy cows produce greenhouse gas emissions, which have been linked to climate change. Manure and fertilizer has been known to contaminate water supplies, and unsustainable dairy farming coupled with having to produce a lot of food to feed these millions of dairy cows often leads to the loss of prairies, wetlands, and forests.
One study concluded that the “impacts of the lowest-impact animal products typically exceed those of vegetable substitutes, providing new evidence for the importance of dietary change.”
Outside of the environmental impact of dairy milk is the question of whether or not dairy milk is even good for you.
Doctors have been pushing milk as an essential part of our diets for decades. Even today, my daughter’s pediatrician lectures me on how many servings of dairy I need to feed her.
The truth is, you do not need milk, nor dairy, to be “healthy.” It’s a fallacy to say that milk is your best source of calcium, for example, when calcium is readily found in soy, nuts and seeds, vegetables and other products.
Even a study published in the British Medical Journal found that people consuming the highest amounts of calcium had higher rates of hip fractures and similar rates of osteoporosis compared with those who consumed less. (Thank you Dr. Neal Barnard for this information gem.)
Regardless if you drink dairy milk – or a dairy-free milk alternative – let’s discuss the merits of milk, particularly whether or not oat milk is gluten-free.
Is Oat Milk Gluten-Free?
Oat milk is made by soaking oats in water, pulverizing the oats it in a blender and then straining it to to create a creamy, milk-like substance.
While oats are naturally gluten-free, oats are notoriously cross contaminated with wheat. In fact, oats are grown on the same fields at wheat and the same equipment is used to harvest, manufacturer and store the oats.
This is why oat milk is NOT gluten-free, unless otherwise specified by the manufacturer. In other words, unless the manufacturer is using gluten-free oats to create its oat milk, you should avoid it.
Oats are one of the most confusing ingredients for people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivities. This is because there is so much opinion being pass off as fact.
The truth is, oats, when labeled gluten-free and when they meet the FDA’s guidelines of containing 20 parts per million of gluten or less, they are gluten-free. This is true whether the oats are grown under “purity protocol” or whether they’re considered “commodity” oats.
Purity protocol oats are oats grown on dedicated gluten-free fields with dedicated equipment. They are the gold standard gluten-free oats. Commodity oats are regular oats that are optically or mechanically sorted by the manufacturer, and then scrubbed of any gluten contaminants.
If you choose to eat commodity oats, make sure the manufacturer is reputable and has good processes in place to test both the raw ingredients used, and the final product for gluten.
I cannot tell you if you should eat purity or commodity oats because ultimately the decision is up to you.
Of course, some people with celiac disease cannot tolerate oats; however the vast majority can. If you cannot tolerate oats, oat milk is not for you.
What Oat Milk Brands are Gluten-Free?
OATzarella, cheese made with oat milk, is also gluten-free.
Silk’s Oat Yeah™ oat milk is NOT made with gluten-free oats, and therefore its oat milk is not considered gluten-free. Additionally, Silk Oat Yeah also contains malt, which is not typically a gluten-free ingredient. Pacific Foods™, Elmhurst™ and Thrive Market™ oat milks also are NOT gluten-free.
Starbucks now offers oat milk that is NOT gluten-free. This means the steam nozzle used to steam hot beverages could be contaminated with traces of oat milk. Be sure to ask your barista to clean the steam nozzle before preparing your drink at any coffee shop to avoid cross contact with non-gluten-free oat milk.
Nutritional Benefits of Oat Milk
If you can find gluten-free oat milk, you can 100 percent enjoy it along with the nutritional benefits that come along with it.
Protein: Oat milk contains about three grams of protein per one-cup serving. Milk contains about six grams per serving and soy milk contains about seven or eight grams of protein per serving. Oat milk does not, however, contain all nine essential amino acids like dairy milk and soy milk.
Calories: One cup of unsweetened oat milk is about 80-120 calories compared to about 150 calories in a single cup of whole milk (skim milk contains 83 calories). The unsweetened version of soy milk has roughly 130 calories per cup, flax milk has 25, almond milk has 60, and coconut milk has 80.
Nutrients: Oat milk offers a good source of vitamin D, vitamin B12, calcium and riboflavin, particularly if the brand of oat milk you’re using is fortified (most are). Oat milk also offers 2-4 grams of fiber while dairy milk offers none.
Bottom Line on Oat Milk
Is oat milk gluten-free? Yes and no.
If you follow a gluten-free diet, you must find out if the oat milk is gluten-free (and it must be labeled as such) before you can consume it. Only oat milk made from gluten-free oats is safe for those with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity.
It’s worthy of reminding you to be careful when ordering espresso drinks at coffee shops that use oat milk. Ask your barista to wipe down the steam nozzle before making your drink, and do not order your drink with oat milk unless you know the source of its oats.