How to decide between oat milk and almond milk — and which is best for your health

How to decide between oat milk and almond milk — and which is best for your health
Both oat milk and almond milk are great dairy alternatives if you are lactose-intolerant or have a dairy allergy.Doetch, Amanda/Getty Images
  • Oat milk and almond milk are both nutritious dairy milk alternatives rich in calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin A.
  • Oat milk is the better option if you have a nut allergy or want to increase your intake of vitamin B12 and riboflavin.
  • Almond milk is best if you are watching your weight, as it is lower in calories and fat content.

Alternative dairy products are becoming increasingly popular in the US. In particular, oat milk and almond milk have emerged as front-runners to replace dairy milk in recipes and drinks. But is one better for your health? Here's what you need to know about the nutritional benefits and downsides of oat milk and almond milk.

Oat milk vs. almond milk

Alternative dairy products are often fortified, meaning they have extra nutrients added to make up for nutritional deficiencies. Nutrients like vitamin D, B12, and calcium may be added to oat milk and almond milk because neither naturally contains these nutrients.

"As long as they are fortified, both [oat milk and almond milk] would be a good source of calcium and vitamin D as well as other nutrients that may be added in the fortification process," says Laura Yudys, MS, RD, LDN, a clinical nutrition manager at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital.
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While nutritional content and ingredients will vary between brands, here's a rundown of what you can expect from common store-bought oat and almond milk:

Oat milk

Oat milk is made by soaking and blending oats with water and then straining out the pulp, leaving a smooth drink that looks and tastes similar to dairy milk. Most oat milk consists of oats, water, oil, fortified nutrients, and additional preservatives and sweeteners.

Health benefits of oat milk

Depending on the brand, one serving of fortified oat milk can provide you with a host of nutritional benefits like:
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Who should drink oat milk: Oat milk is a particularly great option for those with lactose intolerance or nut allergies as it is naturally dairy-free, soy-free, and nut-free.

Downsides of oat milk

Oat milk usually has a higher calorie count and fat content than almond milk. Yudys says to watch out for high amounts of added sugar as many varieties can have significant amounts. The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 25 to 35 grams of sugar per day — and a glass of Oatly has about 7 grams. Who shouldn't drink oat milk: Anyone that has an allergy or intolerance to oats should avoid oat milk, and those with celiac disease should be careful when picking a brand.
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"If you have celiac disease, be sure to choose oat milk that is clearly labeled gluten-free,'' says Yudys. "While oats themselves do not contain any gluten, they can be cross-contaminated in the processing."

Almond milk

Almond milk is made by grinding almonds and soaking them in water before straining the mixture. Store-bought varieties often include added sugar and thickeners like carrageenan and guar gum and may be fortified with nutrients like vitamin E and vitamin D.

Health benefits of almond milk

Who should drink almond milk: Almond milk is naturally dairy-free, gluten-free, and soy-free, making it a great option for those with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or lactose intolerance.
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Since it's lower in calories than oat milk, almond milk can be a good option for those watching their weight. Even if you aren't watching your weight, lower calories mean you can add other nutritious foods to smoothies or oatmeal, like chia or hemp seeds, all while staying in your body's caloric range.

Downsides of almond milk

Almond milk isn't a substantial source of protein, offering just 1g of protein per cup. "Neither are natural sources of protein so they will either have minimal amounts, or the amount will be added from another protein source," Yudys says.

Who shouldn't drink almond milk: Anyone with an almond or tree-nut allergy should avoid almond milk.
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Insider's takeaway

Both oat milk and almond milk are healthy dairy alternatives, and one may be better for you based on any allergies or sensitivities. But when it comes to nutrition, there isn't a huge difference.

"Generally speaking, I'd put almond milk and oat milk at roughly the same level in terms of health," Yudys says.

The most significant differences are carbohydrates and calories, with almond milk being lower in each. And when buying either oat milk or almond milk, it's important to keep an eye on added sugar content — which usually means opting for the unsweetened or lightly sweetened version.
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