Is Oatly Oat Milk Healthy?

Oatly oat milk is a dairy-free alternative to milk. If you haven't tried it yourself, maybe you've heard someone in line at Starbucks order something like a "matcha latte with oat milk." It tastes creamier and more milk-like than many other plant-based milk substitutes and has grown like crazy in popularity, but is it healthy? Let’s take a look at the ingredients and nutrition facts:

Oatmilk (water, oats), rapeseed oil, dipotassium phosphate, calcium carbonate, calcium phosphate, sea salt, vitamin B12, riboflavin (B2), vitamin D2, vitamin A.

Nutrition Facts per 1 cup (240 ml)
Calories - 140
Fat - 7 g
Saturated - .5 g
Trans Fat - 0 g
Cholesterol - 0 mg
Sodium - 100 mg
Potassium - 390 mg
Total Carbohydrate - 16 g
Dietary Fiber - 2 g
Soluble Fiber - 1 g
Sugars - 7 g
Includes 7 g added sugars

Protein - 3 g

One of the first things I notice is that there are 7 grams of added sugar per cup of oat milk, even though there's no added sweetener in the ingredients list. So where does the sugar come from? The only carbohydrate source is oats, a grain that’s very low in sugar. It turns out the added sugar in Oatly comes from their production process, where added enzymes break down the oat starch into simple sugars, primarily maltose [1]. Maltose has a glycemic index of 105. For context, white flour and doughnuts have a glycemic index of 85 and 75, respectively. The glycemic index is a scale from 0 to 100, meaning that maltose has a literally off-the-charts impact on blood sugar levels. A 12-ounce glass of oat milk (the amount in a medium latte) has about the same blood sugar impact as a 12-ounce can of Coke.

Oatly has about the same blood sugar impact as a Coke and about the same amount of oil per serving as french fries. Oatly's primary sugar (maltose) has a higher glycemic index than pure glucose [Trish.io, USDA, Oatly]

The third ingredient, after water and oats, is rapeseed oil, the slightly less flattering name for canola oil. Usually, rapeseed oil is used in the automotive and chemical industries to make things like engine lubricant and biodiesel, whereas the version used for cooking is known as “canola oil”. Both are extremely processed, inflammatory, and unhealthy oils and can even contain up to 2.03% of trans-fats [3]. Trans-fats have no safe level of consumption and have (finally) been officially banned in the US [4]. Seed oils like rapeseed and canola oil are one of the few foods left that still contain toxic trans-fats [5]. Based on its nutrition information, we can calculate that each 8 oz cup of oat milk (the amount in a small latte) contains about the same amount of oil as a medium serving of french fries. A large latte with oat milk would contain over 10 grams of rapeseed oil, much more oil than in a large fries. Every time you drink a latte with oat milk, you're getting the toxic and inflammatory equivalent of a medium to large serving of french fries.

After water, oats, and rapeseed oil, the next ingredient is dipotassium phosphate, a food additive in packaged foods originally derived from animal bones and urine. It is now extracted from phosphate rock and put through chemical reactions to make it edible [6]. Other foods that typically contain added phosphates are processed meats, soda and colas, fast food, and frozen chicken nuggets [7]. The FDA, whose policies and guidelines are usually decades behind the science, claim that phosphates are GRAS (generally recognized as safe), but the FDA said the same thing about artificial trans-fats until 2015, when the scientific research had been showing otherwise since at least the 1990s. In the case of phosphates, a 2012 study on their hazardous effects concludes, “In view of the high prevalence of chronic kidney disease and the potential harm caused by phosphate additives to food, the public should be informed that added phosphate is damaging to health” [8]. Chronic kidney disease is now one of the leading causes of death and disability in the US [9].

To more closely resemble the nutrition facts on a carton of regular cow’s milk, Oatly fortifies its drink with added vitamins and minerals. They include added Vitamin D (a very important nutrient), but use the less effective Vitamin D2 in place of Vitamin D3. Your skin produces Vitamin D3 naturally; in contrast, Vitamin D2 is produced by plants and mushrooms exposed to sunlight. Although supplemental Vitamin D3 is nearly twice as effective as Vitamin D2 at raising Vitamin D levels in your blood [10, 11], Oatly has decided to opt for the less expensive D2, presumably to keep it 100% vegan.

Oatly claim their goal is, “to make it easier for people to upgrade their lives by switching to a more plant-based diet." While they may have good intentions, little about this oily grain water will upgrade your life.

UPDATE: Read Oatly's response to this post, in defense of its ingredients.

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