Oat milk – ‘better’ for the environment, but is it good for you?
Have you noticed more people moving away from animal dairy products such as cow’s milk towards plant-based options? Reasons could be due to vegetarianism and veganism becoming more popular, concerns about environmental impacts, food intolerance or allergies, religion, or simply a personal preference. There is also evidence suggesting that following a plant-based diet could increase life expectancy.
One of the popular plant-based ‘milk’ options is oat milk, possibly due to its lower environmental impact. In comparison to cow’s milk, the production of oat milk leads to 80% less greenhouse gas emissions and uses 60% less energy. Making oat milk also uses about ten times less water than cow’s milk.
Although oat milk appears to have many benefits, how does it stack up nutritionally?
The importance of protein
Oat milk contains far less protein than cow’s milk. To obtain the same amount of protein from oat milk that we get from cow’s milk we’d need to consume over twice as much each day.
Ensuring we consume enough protein to maintain lean muscle mass is important as we age. It’s also true that the ability to digest protein decreases with age – women and men over 70 need 20% more protein than younger adults. For these reasons, being mindful of protein sources in the diet is helpful.
As well as being a good source of protein, dairy products are important in our diet for the calcium they provide – currently less than half of Australians consume the recommended amount of dietary calcium.
Calcium is important for maintaining strong bones and is essential for the healthy functioning of the heart, muscles, blood and nerves. Without enough dietary calcium, the body draws on calcium stored in bones and deposits it in the blood stream to maintain normal functioning. Over time, this can lead osteopenia (low bone mass) or osteoporosis (low bone density). This means the bones are not as strong as they should be and increases the risk of fractures.
The recommended intake for younger adults is 1000mg daily, for women above the age of 50 and men above 70 the recommended intake increases to 1300mg. Plant-based milks do not naturally contain much calcium, so they are sometimes (but not always) calcium fortified. To be equivalent to dairy milk look for brands that contain at least 120mg of calcium per 100ml.
Whilst oat milk naturally contains less protein and calcium than cow’s milk it also contains less saturated fat. This is one of the reasons why some people think it is a healthier choice. While consuming a diet lower in saturated fat is important if you have high cholesterol, the Australian Heart Foundation advises that full cream milk, yoghurt and cheese can be part of a healthy dietary pattern if your cholesterol is normal. If you do have high cholesterol or a history of heart disease, reduced fat dairy will be a better choice.
For more information about choosing the right foods to meet your requirements, book an appointment today with our Accredited Dietitian, Penny Oxby.