Picture by Aleksandra Kingo
Back in Milan, I normally love a good ol’ cappuccino with some very whole fat milk. I don’t order them often, but abstaining entirely from something so truly Italian would leave me a permanent stranger in my adopted country, and honestly sometimes they’re just irresistible.
I, like a lot of other women, also have a dairy sensitivity, one that causes me to bloat up uncomfortably and thus inspires me to steer free of dairy in nearly all other aspects of my life. But having decamped to LA for the foreseeable future, the wide weird world of alternative milks is suddenly at my fingertips, and friends, I’ve been experimenting.
After finally settling on coconut milk for the last year, I recently discovered (albeit a little late to the party here) the wondrousness of oat milk. It’s all the rave across the U.S. right now and has even managed to find itself stocked in European Starbucks locations. So, why is everyone so over the moon for oat milk all of a sudden?
There are a myriad of reasons, but honestly the one I find the most important is that oat milk is the closest in the AltMilk world to the texture of dairy milk. And for anyone who is giving up dairy not by choice but because its mere mention stresses the waistbands of our genes within a millimeter of comfort, holding onto the texture is one small win in keeping our dignity on the path to health and comfort. It’s creamy (but not overpowering), higher in fiber than most milk alternatives (which is great for digestion), and since the fiber is soluble, it aids in cholesterol absorption in your bloodstream (a welcome boost to your body’s ability to synthesize what you eat).
And, if your not following the late-breaking news in the oat milk world, you might not have noticed that this past year the trend, burgeoning obsession for many, drove many grocers into an actual oat milk shortage. Most notably the brand Oatly, which has emerged as the clear Queen of Oat Milks, was desperately, markedly missing from every shelf I visited for months. On my first trip to Whole Foods to buy research materials for this piece, I left empty-handed.
Lucky for us, unlike whole fat milk, which is incredibly difficult to make at home, oat milk is actually the product of a pretty easy home recipe. The next time you’re jonesing but the grocery shelves are empty, blend some water and rolled oats, then filter through a fine mesh strainer, nut milk bag, or triple-layer cheesecloth to be left with your very own homemade oat milk. Mess around with the ratios a little bit, but you can also always add a natural sweetener, like vanilla, for a slightly smoother taste.
The other bright side to making your own batch is that you get to avoid all of the undesirable ingredients found in store bought oat milk. For whatever reason, most brands second ingredient in their recipe is canola oil, which is basically low-quality omega-6 oil that has almost always been genetically modified. Canola oil can be inflammatory for many, so if you’re using a milk substitute to avoid dairy inflammation, you might want to try making your own.
On this note, it’s not all sunshine in the oat milk world. Oat milk not gluten free, so while we may be avoiding dairy bloat, if you have gluten sensitivity this may not be the milk alternative for you. Some oats may be certified gluten-free – which also might be a bit easier to achieve if you make your own batch – but celiacs have found that even the protein in gluten-free oats mimic the reaction to the protein in wheat. And, while some oats may be gluten-free, there is a high risk of cross contamination, so if you are putting energy into a real gluten-free diet or celiac, look for the actual certification on the label.
Some brands convert some of the starch from the oat carbohydrates into sugar with an enzymatic process, making the oat milk a bit sweeter. So, even in an unsweetened oat milk, some formulas are still high in added sugars, as compared to unsweetened almond milk for instance (it is usually zero grams of sugar). It also has twice as many calories and carbohydrates than almond milk.
Just like introducing anything else into your diet, start slow and listen to your body. And honestly, don’t go out and buy out the whole stock at your supermarket because you are scared of the shortages. If you want to lower your risk of an inflammatory response to oat milk, opt for a certified gluten-free and organic product. But as far as my milk selection goes, I’m just not sold, and I’ll be sticking with my almond and coconut milks for the foreseeable future.