Oat milk contains a kind of 'super sugar' - but it won't ruin your health, a dietitian says
- Oat milk fans are nervous after tweets suggested the drink is worse for health than soda.
- While oat milk has a specific sugar that the body absorbs rapidly, it's not necessarily bad for you.
- In the right context, oat milk can be part of a healthy diet, according to an expert.
Oat milk lovers, take heart - you don't have to give up your daily fix, according to a dietitian, despite a viral tweet calling it "super sugar grain juice."
The tweet, based on an article from an expert in marketing - not nutrition - states that natural sugars in oat milks can affect your blood sugar more than a can of Coke.
-Katherine Champagne (@keccers) April 5, 2021That's "ridiculous," according to registered dietitian Anna Sweeney.
"I think we're focusing on the wrong things," Sweeney told Insider. "There's no reason to be scared of oat anything."
Maltose, the type of natural sugar in oat milk, has a higher glycemic indexThe complaint about oat milk is that is contains several grams of added sugar on the label. That's despite the ingredients list showing nothing but oats, oil, salt, and vitamins.
The sugar is the natural result of processing the oats. Enzymes added during production break down the natural oat starches into sugar, creating the sweet taste people expect from oat milk.While the original tweet and article was specifically addressing the brand Oatly, this is true of most commercially available varieties.
Glycemic index is just one factor in nutritionThe sugar in oat milk is a specific type called maltose, which is unique in that it has a high glycemic index. That means it raises blood sugar rapidly, compared to other types of carbohydrates.
A high glycemic index is not reason for alarm, according to Sweeney.
People rarely eat or drink things in isolation, so the effect of any one ingredient on your blood sugar is moderated by whatever else you have in your digestive system."That blood sugar response is mitigated by eating other things," she said.
For example, having oat milk in a bowl of whole grain cereal, along with some fiber, or in a smoothie with healthy fats and protein, is not at all the equivalent of drinking soda, Sweeney explained.
Similarly, any concerns you might have about enjoying a oat milk latte can be mitigated by enjoying a healthy snack with your coffee.There's also no reason to avoid oatmeal in your diet - unlike oat milk, it already comes with plenty of fiber, protein, and other nutritious goodness.
However, unless you plan on getting all your daily nutrition from oat milk alone, including it in your diet isn't harmful, Sweeney said."I don't think we need to be focusing on the glycemic index of anything, assuming people have access to a variety of foods, and aren't just drinking soda," she said.
Good nutrition is about context, not about specific foods or ingredients
Sweeney said the panic around oat milk is part of a larger conversation about how diet culture has taught us to fear certain foods.Sugar is one example. To your body, it's a preferred source of energy, created by breaking down chains of carbohydrates into glucose. It's true that eating too much refined sugar is linked to health issues, but you don't need to fear carbs either, according to nutrition experts.And according to Sweeney, it makes people very preoccupied with small details about their diet, when they should be focusing on overall patterns of healthy eating.
"I am flabbergasted that we are talking about the breaking down of carbohydrate bonds. This is a reflection of where we are in wellness and diet culture that we're pulling apart food into bare components," she said.
Humans have evolved to survive and thrive on a variety of foods, she added. If you want to eat healthier, look at the whole context of what you eat, instead of fixating on those tiny sugar molecules."We are wasting our time thinking about this," Sweeney said. "What an unpleasant way to interact with food."
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