Walking down the the dairy aisle is literally nuts these days. Seriously, where there used to be only cow’s milk, countless nut milks and other plant-based alternatives (hellooo, oat milk) are now taking over.
Though almond milk held court as the king of dairy-free milk for years, its reign might be over.
First of all, almond milk isn’t exactly sustainable. It takes a whopping 6,098 liters of water to produce a single liter of almond milk, according to the Sustainable Restaurant Association via The Guardian, which is extra troubling considering the U.S. gets most of its almonds from draught-plagued California.
Second of all, almond milk isn’t all that nutritious. In addition to providing almost no protein, it’s often sweetened with sugar and only contains calcium if fortified, says Tony Castillo, RDN, dietitian and nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition.
Now, just when people start getting skeptical of almond milk, in swoops creamy, naturally-sweet oat milk to pretty much overthrow the crown.
You’ve gotta wonder, though: Is oat milk really better than almond milk? How different can two plant-based milks really be?
Here’s what nutrition experts have to say about this whole oat milk vs. almond milk debate.
How almond milk and oat milk nutrition stack up
Nutritionally, oat milk and almond milk are quite different.
Here’s what one cup of unsweetened oat milk looks like:
- Calories: 80
- Fat: 1.5 g
- Saturated fat: 0 g
- Sodium: 120 mg
- Carbs: 14 g
- Sugar: 1 g
- Fiber: 2 g
- Protein: 3 g
And what one cup of unsweetened almond milk looks like:
- Calories: 35
- Fat: 3 g
- Saturated fat: 0 g
- Sodium: 160 mg
- Carbs: 1 g
- Sugar: 0 g
- Fiber: 1 g
- Protein: 1 g
As you can see, oat milk is higher in—well, almost everything.
Why? Both milks are made by soaking either almonds or oats in water, and then blending and straining the mixture. While the process pulls just a bit of flavor and some white color out of the almonds, it pulls more—notably carbohydrates—out of the oats, says nutritionist Brittany Modell, RD.
Otherwise, both milks are typically fortified with calcium and vitamin D, which are important for healthy bones and keeping a proper nutrient balance in your bloodstream and cells, adds Castillo.
Almond milk does have the perk, though, of being naturally high in vitamin E, which benefits your skin and immune system, and might reduce your risk of chronic disease, he says.
Oat milk definitely has pros and cons
Because of its higher carb and calorie content, “oat milk provides a creamy consistency that almond milk does not provide,” Modell says. (In fact, it’s probably the most comparable to cow’s milk out of all your plant-based milk options.)
That’s why coffee baristas have taken so quickly to the stuff; oat milk froths in a way that almond milk typically can’t. (Some brands add potassium phosphate to help with this. The added ingredient isn’t an issue unless you have kidney disease, in which case your kidneys may not be able to filter phosphorous out of your blood.)
Another perk of oat milk’s naturally thicker texture: It also rarely contains thickeners (like carrageenan), which many nutrition experts are skeptical of. Plus, it’s relatively shelf-stable (meaning it can last a really long time).
Of course, though, if you’re watching your calories or strictly monitoring your carb intake (like on keto), consider how oat milk fits into your daily eats and keep an eye on your serving sizes.
Gluten-free people should also be careful about which oat milk they buy. “Oats are naturally gluten-free,” Castillo says. “However, they can often be grown or processed [alongside gluten-containing grains], which can cause cross-contamination.” If you have celiac or a gluten allergy, check your labels to find a product that’s gluten-free.
Almond milk also has upsides and downsides
Though sustainability has become one of the biggest arguments against almond milk, concern about thickeners used in the beverage have also brought it under fite.
“The [questionable] additive in almond milk is carrageenan,” Castillo says. “Carrageenan is used to thicken almond milk and prevent separation, but there are concerns that it may cause inflammation and damage in the intestines.” Castillo and other nutrition experts feel that more research will help clarify the impact carrageenan has on the body.
Plus, since almond milk doesn’t offer the natural sweetness that oat milk does, it’s often sweetened. Whether you’re specifically monitoring your carbs or not, both Castillo and Modell always recommend opting for the unsweetened stuff.
That said, almond milk is still significantly lower in calories than oat milk, which is a plus if you want to limit how much of your daily intake comes from beverages.
So…is oat milk better for you than almond milk?
Ultimately, both almond milk and oat milk are fine choices.
If you’re looking for a low-calorie option and don’t care as much about consistency or flavor, almond milk will certainly do the trick, says Castillo. (Modell recommends Califia Farms Unsweetened Almond Milk or Malk Unsweetened Almond Milk, neither of which contain carrageenan.)
On the other hand, oat milk contains beneficial nutrients like protein and fiber that help keep you full for longer, so it’s a good bet in oatmeal bowls or smoothies, he says. Oat milk’s flavor and froth also make it a much better cow’s milk substitute in coffee. (Modell recommends Oatly Oat Drink Skinny or Elmhurst Unsweetened Milked Oats.)
Regardless of whether you opt for oat or almond milk, look for an unsweetened bottle that contains as few ingredients as possible.
The bottom line: Both oat milk and almond milk have pros and cons, so drink whichever you like best .