Have you ever heard the expression "sugar and spice and everything nice"?
Well, when it comes to oat milk, you might want to add "oats and water and... sugar?"
Yes, that's right.
Despite being touted as a healthy and nutritious alternative to dairy milk, oat milk isn't always the innocent drink it seems to be.
In fact, depending on the brand and flavor, oat milk can contain quite a bit of sugar.
But don't worry, we're here to help you separate the sweet from the sour. In this post, we'll answer the burning question on everyone's lips (and taste buds): how much sugar is in oat milk, really?
Get ready to dig into the oats and uncover the truth!
How much sugar is in oat milk?
Oat milk can have anywhere between 0-10+ grams of sugar depending on the brand. The sugar can come from the oats themselves or added sweeteners such as cane sugar.
Types of Sugar in Oat Milk Products
There are a few different types of sugar in oat milk, which vary depending on the brand and product.
Most oat milk will contain natural sugars from the oats themselves, but some commercial oat milk products also contain added sugars to enhance their flavor.
Oat milk is made by blending whole oats with filtered water, then straining the pulp. Even without additives, this pure form of oat milk contains natural sugars.
Oats contain maltose, a type of sugar made of two glucose molecules. Maltose is formed when the starch molecules in whole oats are broken down during processing.
Compared to grains like corn and wheat, oats are relatively low in natural sugars; however, this natural maltose means that oat milk is typically higher in carbohydrates than almond milk.
For example, almond milk typically contains around 4 grams of carbohydrates, while a serving of oat milk contains about 16 grams of carbs.
These carbohydrates can affect your blood sugar, especially if you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. For most people, natural sugars in moderation are part of a regular diet and don’t cause excess health issues.
Added sugars in oat milk are any sugars or sweeteners added during manufacturing to enhance sweetness or flavor. Common types of added sugars you’ll see in commercial oat milk brands include:
- Maple syrup
- Cane sugar
- Brown sugar
- Agave syrup
Less commonly, high fructose corn syrup may be added to oat milk as a sweetener.
These sweeteners are optional add-ins by manufacturers.
While they can make a product taste more exciting or give it flavors such as vanilla, chocolate, or oatmeal cookies, they can have negative health consequences.
Consuming added sugar can contribute to health issues like diabetes, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recommends getting less than 10% of your daily calorie intake from added sugars.
This equals around 200 calories, or 12 teaspoons if you are consuming 2,000 calories per day.
Harvard University advises a smaller daily added sugar limit: no more than 100 calories, or about 24 grams for women, and about 150 calories or 36 grams of added sugar per day for men.
How Much Sugar is in Oat Milk?
The sugar content in oat milk, including natural and added sugars, varies. Unsweetened oat milk has the fewest sugars, while sweetened or flavored options often have a higher sugar count.
Below is a chart with several popular oat milk brands' total sugars, added sugars, and carbohydrates. It also includes the type of added sugar, if applicable:
The Controversy With Oat Milk and Added Sugars
From the chart above, you may wonder why some brands show a high number of added sugars without an added sweetener.
While some list added sugars and include ingredients like maple syrup or cane sugar on the ingredient list, others have up to 7 grams of added sugar without extra ingredients on their nutrition labels.
Oatly, a brand that came under fire in 2018 for its “no added sugars” slogan, explains the discrepancy on its website.
The brand explains that it uses a manufacturing process that liquefies the oats using natural enzymes. This lets them create creamy oat milk and retain nutrients from the oats.
These enzymes break down the starches in the oats, including the natural maltose (maltose sugar).
Once the oats are broken down, they add other ingredients like emulsifiers, salt, or fortified vitamins and minerals, pasteurize the milk with UHT, and package it for sale.
In 2019, the FDA issued revised guidance on how oat and other alternative milk producers should label sugars in their products.
On page 21 of the document, the FDA clearly states that sugars created through controlled hydrolysis of starch or complex carbohydrates when manufacturing plant-based beverages should be declared as Added Sugars.
The FDA reasons that this process adds empty calories to a person’s diet, making the natural sugars act in the same way as added sugars like cane sugar, honey, or maple syrup.
Should You Avoid Added Sugars in Oat Milk?
The answer to whether you should avoid added sugars in oat milk depends on multiple factors.
You will want to consider elements such as your total added sugar intake, personal health conditions, and other ingredients in the oat milk.
Total Added Sugars
It’s generally recommended to limit added sugars to between 24 and 26 grams per day.
Most people easily go over this recommendation due to added sugars in much of the food in the standard American diet, so choosing oat milk that has zero added sugars can help you stick to this goal and support a low-sugar nutrition plan.
However, it's important to remember that added sugar in moderation is unlikely to negatively impact your health.
If you have one cup of oat milk per day or a few times per week but otherwise limit your added sugar intake, you can enjoy it as a delicious treat with other health benefits.
Our recommendation is to stick to unsweetened oat milk whenever possible.
However, if you’re going to use sweetened oat milk, look for brands that use natural sweeteners (e.g. dates, honey, maple syrup) rather than cane sugar. And ideally, choose products that contain less than 4 grams of added sugar.
If you have diabetes or any other health conditions affected by your blood sugar, you may need to closely monitor the added sugars you consume in oat milk.
Maltose, the natural sugar in oats and oat milk, has a high Glycemic Index of 105.
This means it can spike your blood sugar quickly, which can be dangerous for those with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart issues.
If you have these conditions, opt for oat milk with no added sugars like Elmhurst 1925’s Unsweetened Oat Milk, or use a sugar-free base from JOI.
While added sugars in oat milk, including those produced naturally by oats, can raise your blood glucose levels, other ingredients can minimize the adverse effects.
For example, fiber can help reduce the impact of sugar on your digestive system. Choosing a brand with higher fiber content or one like Willa’s Kitchen that uses the whole oat can be more beneficial for your body.
Additionally, oats with phenolic compounds can minimize the GI values of added sugars in oats.
A 2021 study found that oats treated with enzymes, such as the α-amylase enzyme, as part of the hydrolyzing process (similar to the method used by Oatly) released phenolics.
These compounds can reduce glucose absorption and potentially help manage type 2 diabetes.
Health Benefits of Oat Milk
Oat milk offers several health benefits that make it an excellent addition to your diet.
Oat milk contains fiber, including beta-glucans, which promotes digestive health and helps maintain steady blood sugar levels.
It also helps to reduce cholesterol, making fiber-rich oat milk a healthy option for many people.
Depending on the brand, oat milk may be fortified with nutrients like vitamin D, calcium, and vitamin B12, which are beneficial for bone health and overall wellness.
It is low in fat and has about half the protein of cow’s milk, which is higher than most other plant milk other than soy.
Oat milk can be a wonderful, tasty alternative if you cannot have dairy due to lactose intolerance or must stay away from nut milk due to an allergy.
It can help you support a plant-based lifestyle which has proven to lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and body mass index for better well-being.
Enjoy Oat Milk With Little to No Added Sugar
When choosing oat milk to support your diet, aim for a brand with little to no added sugars.
This can be confusing due to the FDA’s ruling on what constitutes “added sugars” since many brands contain added sugars from natural maltose in oats.
The most healthy way to consume oat milk is to find a brand that doesn’t use enzymatic processing (such as Willa’s Kitchen).
Because this brand doesn’t break down the oats before blending, your body won’t process the natural sugars like added sugars, making it one of the healthiest oat milk options.
Whatever oat milk you choose, you can incorporate it as part of a balanced diet by watching your added sugar intake and sticking to one serving per day.