Plant-based milk sales have blown up over the last decade, and with it, the non-dairy options have grown tremendously. We're breaking down the almond and oat milk health benefits, flavor, and consistency to help you choose the best option for you.
Since 2010, the almond milk market has slowly and steadily grown, surpassing soymilk as the most-purchased dairy alternative for vegans.
The growing market has also made extra room for other dairy-free milk alternatives to emerge, all offering their own unique health benefits, texture, and taste.
One of our favorite plant-based milk options is oat milk, made of, you guessed it, oats! This nutty-tasting, creamy milk is high in fiber and rich in A, D, and B vitamins.
Is almond milk good for you, or are other alternatives superior? Can oat-based milk dethrone the reigning champ, almond milk, as the ultimate plant-based milk?
We've explained more below about both types of milk, including almond and oat milk nutrition facts and the pros and cons of each, so you have the knowledge you need to make your own decision.
What is oat milk?
As oat milk began development within the 1990s, it's a relatively young product compared to other plant milk. From 2017 to 2019, sales increased by ten times, and they continue to multiply.
The thick and creamy texture is very similar to cow's milk, allowing oat milk to be an optimal choice for many baristas, as its thickness allows it to steam better than cow’s milk. The slightly nutty, oaty flavor also complements the espresso tremendously well.
What's in oat milk?
To make oat milk, manufacturers mill whole oats and mix them with warm water. They treat the oats with enzymes. Heat is then applied to the mixture to thicken it before it’s strained and fortified with extra vitamins and minerals.
Oat milk comes in cartons in its original state, or as ice cream, coffee creamer, yogurt, and more.
What is almond milk?
Almond milk originally comes from the Middle East sometime around the 13th century as an acceptable product to consume during the religious fasting season.
It has a nutty flavor and thinner consistency than most cow's milk, more similar to skim than 2%. It is the highest-selling plant-based milk substitute by a long shot - $1.2 billion in 2018, compared to soy milk's relatively measly $230 million.
What's in almond milk?
This simple recipe involves soaking almonds in water, grinding the nuts, and removing the pulp. The resulting almond milk gets fortified with essential vitamins and minerals for added nutrition.
Oat vs. almond: A side-by-side comparison
There are significant differences in healthy vs. unhealthy foods, and neither of these kinds of milk is the wrong choice per se. There are pros and cons of each milk option, which may sway you in one direction or another based on what you want to get out of your plant-based milk.
Macronutrients: Nutrition information per cup
Is oat milk healthy, or is almond milk superior? Do the benefits of almond milk outweigh those of oat milk? Let's take a look at the macronutrient breakdown of both.
- Almond Milk
- Oat Milk
- 60 kcal
- 120 kcal
As you can see, a cup of oat milk contains exactly double of all the macronutrients almond milk contains, likely because it's a thick and less watered-down product.
Micronutrients: Vitamin and mineral breakdown
Both oat milk and almond milk become fortified in the production process. This means that both kinds of milk contain decent calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin D amounts.
Unlike almond, though, oat milk offers a few different vitamins, namely riboflavin and vitamin B12. Plant-based dieters are more susceptible to vitamin B12 deficiencies, and oat milk provides an excellent dietary source of this cell-strengthening vitamin.
However, one of the benefits of almond milk that oat milk doesn't offer is 50% of your vitamin E RDI, a potent antioxidant that helps protect the body's cells.
Pros and cons of oat milk
Its consistency is thicker, like cow's milk.
Do you love the consistency of cow's milk? Oat milk is the closest plant-based substitute to milk's actual texture and flavor, making a more seamless transition for those that miss some animal-based favorites.
It makes the best coffee creamer and steamed milk.
Oat milk's viscosity also makes it the superior option for coffee creamer, and the oat flavor beautifully complements roasted coffee notes, like chocolate, nut, and malts. Think about dipping oatmeal chocolate chip cookies in a hot mug of coffee - yum!
It's sweet, neutral taste, higher fat content, and creaminess allow oat milk to steam and froth for the best plant-based latte or cappuccino. Oat milk also contains a fiber called beta-glucan, which helps build some extra thick, pillowy microfoam compared to other plant milk, which can fall flat.
It's the best for baking.
Vegan baking recipes call for plant-based milk, but for baking substitutions for cow's milk, most vegan milk is far too thin and will not create the same consistency. Oat milk is much closer to cow's milk, and you can use it in a 1:1 ratio with much better results.
It's more sustainable.
The production of oat milk causes very little waste. There are massive oat acreages already, as oats are a large portion of the crops grown for animal feed, so the infrastructure is already there.
They have minimal input requirements, making them an easy to grow, low-maintenance option compared to other plant-based milk alternatives.
It may contain gluten.
Some manufacturing plants that process oats also process wheat, and harvesting equipment is shared between differing crops, meaning oats and wheat fields often cross-contaminate each other in trace amounts.
Many oat brands and oat milk brands may contain gluten traces, so those with celiac disease should avoid oat milk that isn't certified gluten-free.
Higher in carbohydrates.
This grain-based beverage is higher in carbs, so for those eating low-carb, the carbs in almond milk may be a better fit for your diet.
It's higher in calories.
Calories aren't always bad, and the calories in oat milk are pretty reasonable at 120 kcal per glass.
Is oat milk fattening? No, it's a perfectly acceptable option for any healthy diet, but if you focus on eating a low-calorie diet, you may choose lower-calorie plant milk instead.
Pros and cons of almond milk
It contains healthy fats.
Almonds are high in healthy fats. Although much of the nutrition in almonds is lost when creating almond milk, it still contains a few grams of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which helps keep a load of our body processes running optimally.
It's lower in calories and carbs.
For anyone who is watching their weight, almond milk makes a great choice. Almond milk calories are half that of oat milk. For low-carb dieters, grain-based oat milk may not be your drink of choice - almond milk carbs are also half as much as oat milk carbs.
It isn't suitable for tree-nut allergies.
Anyone with almond or tree-nut allergies will need to steer clear of almond milk and choose a nut-free option instead.
It's a strain on the environment.
Almond crops are a massive strain on the environment. These water-guzzlers are grown in drought-stricken California and require six times the amount of water to grow as an oat crop.
Some vegans avoid almond milk as the growing process exploits honey bees raised and released on almond crops for artificial pollination.
It contains almost no protein.
Although almond milk is low in calories, it's a double-edged sword - this thin beverage contains mostly water, so fiber, nutrients, and protein in almond milk are pretty low.
Almond milk nutrition isn't going to give you a giant serving of any nutrient, but it will keep your overall caloric intake down.
Sweetened vs. unsweetened
Whether you choose oat or almond milk, both are only as good as the variety you choose. To avoid unhealthy added sugars, go for the unsweetened options.
Final notes: Oat milk or almond milk?
Both oat milk and almond milk are a relatively healthy part of any diet, each offering some vitamins, minerals, and a bit of fiber. If you strongly prefer one over the other, stick with your favorite.
We prefer the taste and texture of oat-based milk, as it most closely resembles cow's milk. It's higher in calories, fat, and carbs, but it is a nutrient-dense food that keeps you feeling full a lot longer than almond milk.
From an environmental perspective, oat crops and production is a lot better for the environment and doesn't affect bees, while almond crops are very high-maintenance.
And for these reasons, we've decided on a clear winner - oat milk!