When I was little, my parents and teachers always told me I needed to drink milk and play outside.
Growing up in the U.S. midwest near several dairy farms, this specifically referred to cow’s milk, typically 2% or whole in a glass or carton.
Although I’m not sure if my parents knew exactly why these were important for me a child, I now know that it was to ensure that I got enough vitamin D. Vitamin D is a vital nutrient we all need for bone, immune, and brain health, and is typically obtained through direct sunlight or fortified foods.
Cow’s milk is the most common source of vitamin D, as most brands are fortified with the nutrient.
However, with the rise of plant-based milk alternatives and their health and environmental benefits, many people wonder about the vitamin D content in these products.
Oat milk has become one of my preferred dairy alternatives, but how does it stack up in vitamin D content?
For instance, does it have as much as cow’s milk or help me get my recommended daily allowance?
In this article, I’m investigating how much vitamin D is in oat milk to help us understand how it fits into a healthy, vitamin D-rich diet.
Does oat milk have Vitamin D?
Oat milk contains up to 5 mcg of vitamin D depending on the brand and ingredients.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is an important nutrient that our bodies need to function properly. Unlike many other vitamins, this nutrient is not usually available in the foods we eat.
For instance, it only occurs naturally in small amounts in some fatty fish or mushrooms exposed to UV light.
For most people, getting enough vitamin D means spending time in the sun. UV exposure recommendations vary based on time of day, location, and season.
This could look like about 8 to 10 minutes of direct sunlight exposure in the spring and summer or up to 2 hours in winter sunlight to synthesize adequate vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol).
People can also get vitamin D by eating fortified foods like cereals, juice, dairy, or plant-based milk alternatives.
Many manufacturers add vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) to their products to increase nutritional value and help people supplement their vitamin D intake.
This is especially true for milk and plant-based alternatives with high calcium levels, as calcium is not readily bioavailable without adequate vitamin D.
How Much Vitamin D Do We Need Daily?
Getting enough vitamin D is vital for the body. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for vitamin D varies by age.
According to the National Institutes of Health, you should aim for the following amounts per day:
Birth to 12 months
10 mcg (400 IU)
Children - 1 to 3 years
15 mcg (600 IU)
Teens - 14 to 18 years
15 mcg (600 IU)
Adults 19 to 70 years
15 mcg (600 IU)
Adults over 71 years
20 mcg (800 IU)
Pregnant or breastfeeding women
15 mcg (600 IU)
Taking in enough of this important nutrient ensures your body can do the following to keep you healthy:
- Calcium absorption - you must get enough vitamin D in order for your body to absorb calcium. The nutrient helps the intestines absorb calcium and regulates calcium levels in the blood. Without vitamin D, your body can’t get enough calcium, which forces it to pull from the calcium in your bones. This can lead to osteomalacia or osteoporosis if you have prolonged vitamin D deficiency.
- Immune function - vitamin D plays a large part in immune system function. Getting enough vitamin D can help reduce inflammation, boost immune cell function, and regulate antigen response. These functions can help you stay healthy and fight off infections caused by bacteria or pathogens.
- Bone health - in addition to aiding in calcium absorption, vitamin D also helps your bones mineralize properly to be strong and healthy. In children, a lack of vitamin D can cause rickets, a relatively rare condition in the developed world, that can cause weakened bones, spine curvature, and dental issues.
- Mood-brain health - vitamin D significantly impacts mood and cognitive functioning. Getting enough vitamin D has neuroprotective effects. In older adults, it can enhance cognitive functioning and lower the risk of dementia and stroke.
Vitamin D in Oat Milk
Understanding whether oat milk has vitamin D can be a bit challenging.
Let’s look a little bit more closely at whether you’d expect to find vitamin D in oat milk and why some packaging claims that the product contains the vitamin.
Is Vitamin D Naturally Found in Oat Milk?
Just like cow’s milk, oat milk does not contain vitamin D naturally.
According to the USDA, 100 grams of raw oats (the whole grain plant that makes oat milk) contains 0 µg of vitamin D.
Since oat milk in its most basic form consists of whole oats and filtered water, this means that without added ingredients, oat milk does not contain vitamin D.
Many brands that use simple, natural ingredients in their oat milk reflect this.
For example, Malk’s Original Oat Malk offers a healthy oat milk option with no additives. While this oat milk is low in calories and fat and has about 3 grams of protein and 1 gram of fiber, it isn’t fortified, so that means no vitamin D.
Fortification of Vitamin D in Plant-Based Beverages
Manufacturers routinely fortify cow’s milk with vitamin D to help people get their RDA.
However, since the rise of plant-based milk popularity, many manufacturers are also fortifying dairy alternatives like oat, dairy, rice, and cashew milk.
The process of fortification in oat milk involves adding vitamin D, specifically vitamin D2, to the beverage during manufacture.
Vitamin D2 is commonly gleaned from plant sources, like mushrooms, through a process that synthesizes the nutrient by exposing the fungi and yeast to ultraviolet light.
Oat milk brands that contain vitamin D typically contain a similar amount to cow’s milk, making them comparable for obtaining your RDA.
Oat Milk Brands with Vitamin D
There are hundreds of oat milk brands on the market, all with different nutritional profiles.
To help you know which oat milk products have vitamin D, I searched our Milk Pick plant-milk database and listed a few below:
Vitamin D Per Serving
If you have a specific brand you’re wondering about, you can easily search the database to check before heading to your local supermarket.
Simply type in the brand name or type of alternative milk. The database will show you all items in that category.
You can also search by flavor, storage (shelf-stable, refrigerated, or frozen), features (like barista, sweetened, or unsweetened), and certifications (like kosher, organic, or gluten-free).
How to Determine the Vitamin D Content of Oat Milk
When searching for oat milk that is fortified with vitamin D, checking the nutrition label is your best bet. There are also a few other helpful tips you can use to determine the vitamin D content of your oat milk.
Below are a few helpful suggestions that I use to help me know whether an oat milk product has vitamin D:
- My number one tip is to look at the nutrition label. The FDA requires manufacturers to put accurate nutritional information on this panel, typically located on the back or side of the product. To see the vitamin D content, look towards the bottom of the panel - you should see vitamin D listed with a value in mcg or μg (these are the same).
- Look for between 2 and 3 mcg of vitamin D per serving. This is comparable to the 2.9 mcg of vitamin D usually found in fortified dairy milk.
- While I don’t rely on marketing statements, you can sometimes use them as a quick way to know whether a product may have vitamin D. Brands might outright claim “fortified with vitamin D”. If so, look on the nutrition panel to see how much they contain.
- Some brands may advertise that their product is an “excellent source of calcium”. Since calcium and vitamin D go hand in hand, this typically means the product also contains vitamin D.
- Most organic brands that contain few or no additives will not have vitamin D. This is a trade-off - no vitamin D for a healthy, additive-free product made from natural ingredients. While it’s up to you, I often prefer this type of oat milk because it helps me avoid unnecessary additives, so I make sure to get vitamin D through other fortified foods and by spending a safe amount of time outside.
Get Your Daily Dose of Vitamin D
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient but it’s a bit hard to come by in oat milk. Yes, some brands fortify their product with oat milk and calcium, but those same brands often have other additives that make the product more dairy-like in nutrient content, texture, and taste.
My outlook on plant-based milk is that less is better - that is to say, fewer additives mean a healthier product with less potential for allergens or irritants.
While non-fortified oat milk may not be high in vitamin D, it does contain fiber, protein, and potassium, without extra additives and emulsifiers like potentially inflammation-causing carrageenan, gums, or lecithins.
However, everyone’s body and nutritional goals are different. Fortified oat milk does usually contain about the same amount of vitamin D (and calcium) as dairy milk, which could make it a good replacement for a plant-based diet.
Ultimately the choice is up to you. It’s just important that you read the nutrition label and supplement in other areas of your diet and lifestyle to ensure you are getting the right amount of vitamin D for your needs.