It used to be simply a decision between skim and full-cream, but now the choice of what milk to pair with your morning coffee is one fraught with various possibilities, each of which seemingly implies something about your personality. Almond was once a favoured choice for hipsters sporting man buns or clutching a yoga mat under the arm, but now to choose almond milk is to admit your naiveté about its environmental impact (“Don’t you know how much water is required to produce almond milk?! Do you even care?!). By way of elimination, oat milk quickly became the popular choice and Oatly stood out amongst the pack. The blue carton has stood pretty on barista benches for months, with many singing its praises. But is it actually good for you?
As Nat Eliason posited in 2020, oat milk isn’t as healthy as you might suspect. Eliason wrote an article titled “Oatly: The New Coke” which was published in the Almanack business newsletter. As a business writer and digital entrepreneur, Eliason exposed Oatly as a wildly popular milk substitute primarily made from oats, but which is really just junk food, possessing canola oil and sugar. The success of the product then, isn’t so much its ingredients, but rather the elaborate marketing campaign Oatly ran to convince people it was good for them.
Despite some rather profound findings made by Eliason, it goes without saying that Oatly is not coke, nor equivalent to the sugary beverage. As Outside suggests, “An eight-ounce serving of Oatly contains 120 calories, 5 grams of fat, 16 grams of carbohydrates (including 7 grams of added sugar), and 3 grams of protein. A 12-ounce can of Coke has a similar number of calories (140), but they come entirely from 38 grams of sugar. Those numbers aren’t even close to equal.”
That said, Oatly has less than half the protein of regular milk and about 30 per cent more carbs. The different though, as Eliason notes, is that while dairy milk has almost twice as much sugar as Oatly, the sugar contained in Oatly - maltose - is worse for you than that contained in dairy milk because it has a higher glycemic load, meaning you’re spiking your blood sugar every time you add Oatly to your coffee.
But unless you’re guzzling Oatly by the carton, you’re not really doing that much damage to yourself. If you’re just putting a little splash of Oatly into your coffee, there’s no significant impact, plus any protein, fat or fibre containing food will slow the absorption of this sugar.
Even so, Oatly’s marketing campaign is problematic and exposes a flaw that is inherent in the food and drinks industry. The brand has made numerous suspect health claims, including the attempt (which ultimately failed) to trademark the phrase, “It’s like milk but made for humans”. The brand has gone on to lead its marketing strategy with the belief that the product contains fibre, which they claim is “the most amazing fibre in the drinkable world.” But Oatly only contains two grams of fibre per serving, just 8 per cent of what’s recommended daily for women and 5 per cent of what’s recommended for men.
Though it markets itself as a game-changing beverage, Oatly isn’t a super nutritious milk choice. It’s not Coke, not even close, but as far as milk choices go, it’s nothing to get excited over and think you’ve stumbled on the Holy Grail of health choices.