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The Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free Milk that Supports Bones & Immunity

Dr. Josh Axe | Rachael Link, MS, RD : May 16, 2018 : Food is Medicine

Much like other nut milks, it can be easily swapped in for milk in many different recipes. You can use it in cold desserts like pudding or ice cream or even add it to your morning bowl of cereal for a quick and convenient vegan milk alternative.

[Food is Medicine] You may have heard of almond milk or rice milk, but have you heard of oat milk? This milk alternative is becoming more and more common on supermarket shelves these days due to its delicious flavor and impressive nutrient profile. It’s also ideal for those with dietary restrictions or allergies, as it’s naturally free of dairy, lactose, soy, nuts and gluten — as oats are naturally gluten-free. (Photo Credit: Dr. Josh Axe/ Food is Medicine)

Ready to start adding this nutritious ingredient into your routine? Keep reading to find out more about the potential oat milk benefits and side effects, plus how to make your own with just two ingredients required.

What Is Oat Milk?

Oat milk is a vegan alternative to cow’s milk that’s been gaining widespread popularity recently. It’s made by blending one cup of soaked, old-fashioned rolled oats in a blender with about three cups of water and then pouring the liquid through a cheese cloth to extract the milk. Depending on which oat milk recipe you’re using, you can also add cinnamon, vanilla, dates or other natural sweeteners to enhance the flavor.

Thanks to its growing popularity, oat milk is now available pre-made at many grocery stores and health food markets. Not only have food manufacturers made it easier than ever to enjoy this type of milk, but they also often add extra vitamins and minerals to create a product that’s rich in many micronutrients found in cow’s milk, such as vitamin A, calcium, riboflavin and vitamin D.

Is Oat Milk Healthy? Oat Milk Benefits

Lactose-Free and Vegan

Helps Prevent Anemia

Strengthens Bones

Boosts Immunity

Lowers Cholesterol

1. Lactose-Free and Vegan

Whether you avoid conventional milk to minimize your intake of animal products or because the lactose found in milk simply doesn’t agree with your stomach, oat milk is a good alternative. It’s made from oats and water, so it’s free of both dairy and lactose, making it an ideal substitute for those with dietary restrictions who may be following a dairy-free diet.

Much like other nut milks, it can be easily swapped in for milk in many different recipes. You can use it in cold desserts like pudding or ice cream or even add it to your morning bowl of cereal for a quick and convenient vegan milk alternative.

2. Helps Prevent Anemia

Anemia is a serious condition characterized by a lack of red blood cells in the body. This can result in a long list of anemia symptoms, ranging from fatigue to pale skin and beyond. There are many different conditions that can result in anemia, but it is often caused by a lack of certain essential nutrients required for the synthesis of red blood cells, such as iron and vitamin B12. For this reason, those on a vegetarian or vegan diet are at an even higher risk of anemia, as most plant foods are lacking in these important micronutrients.

Just one cup of oat milk contains approximately 10 percent of the iron you need in the entire day, making it an especially good source for vegans and vegetarians. Paired with other iron-rich foods, such as spirulina, lentils and dark chocolate, adding a serving or two of oat milk into your diet can help promote healthy red blood cell production and prevent anemia. (1)

3. Strengthens Bones

Commercial oat milk is often enriched with both calcium and vitamin D, two important micronutrients that play a central role in bone health. Approximately 99 percent of the calcium in your body is found in your bones and is used to regulate bone development and maintenance. (2) Meanwhile, vitamin D works to enhance the absorption of calcium to boost bone health even more. (3)

Upping your intake of both calcium and vitamin D is often recommended in the treatment of conditions like osteoporosis to help keep your bones strong. (4) According to a review out of the University of Cologne’s West-German Osteoporosis Center in Germany, having low levels of calcium and vitamin D may result in an increase in the breakdown of bone cells, plus a higher risk of bone weakness and fractures. (5)

4. Boosts Immunity

When you start feeling a bit under the weather, oat milk may not be the first thing you reach for. However, you can start incorporating it into your diet regularly to help boost your immune system.

Most commercial oat milks are a great source of vitamin D and vitamin A, two nutrients that are essential when it comes to enhancing immunity and warding off illness and infection. Studies show that vitamin D is linked directly to immune cell function, and a deficiency may even be associated with a higher risk of autoimmune conditions, like type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis. (6) Similarly, vitamin A can alter the immune response and may help improve the outcomes for certain types of infectious disease. (7)

5. Lowers Cholesterol

Oats are well-known for their heart-healthy benefits and ability to keep cholesterol levels in check. This is because they contain a type of soluble fiber called beta-glucan, which has been shown to have potent cholesterol-lowering properties. Interestingly enough, research has found that the beneficial effects of beta-glucan in oats are even retained in oat beverages like oat milk. (8)

A human study published in the Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism found that drinking oat milk for five weeks significantly lowered levels of both total and bad LDL cholesterol to a greater extent than rice milk. (9) Another study out of the University of Lund’s Department of Applied Nutrition and Food Chemistry in Sweden had similar findings, reporting that drinking oat milk for just four weeks was effective in reducing cholesterol levels in healthy subjects. (10)

Downsides of Oat Milk

Although it may come with some potential health benefits, there are some oat milk dangers that need to be considered as well.

While buying your oat milk can definitely save you some time, commercial varieties are often pumped full of additives, preservatives and sugars that may diminish some of its health-promoting properties. Although it often contains added vitamins and minerals that can actually be beneficial, oat milk often also contains thickeners and emulsifiers that may impact digestive health and could alter the gut microbiome. (11)

Additionally, although oats are naturally gluten-free, they are often processed in facilities that also process other gluten-containing grains like wheat or barley, resulting in cross-contamination. If you have celiac disease or a sensitivity to gluten, you should opt for certified gluten-free oats or oat milk to avoid cross-contamination.

Oat milk is also not as naturally nutrient-dense as conventional milk. While an enriched variety is a good source of many of the vitamins and minerals found in milk and can be a suitable substitute for milk in terms of nutrition, making your own oat milk at home may require you to ensure that you’re getting these important vitamins and minerals from other sources in your diet.

Oat Milk Nutrition

Oat milk is relatively low in calories but contains protein and is usually enriched with vitamins and minerals like calcium, riboflavin and vitamin D. Commercial varieties may also contain added ingredients that are used to extend shelf life and enhance flavor. Keep in mind that homemade oat milk nutrition may differ slightly and may be lower in many of the micronutrients that are added by food manufacturers…

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