Battle of the non-dairy milks! This round: Oat milk vs. coconut milk.
As a Registered Dietitian, one question I get asked a lot is: which plant-based milk is the best option? With the rise in popularity of vegan and dairy-free diets over recent years, many people are turning to alternative milk for their morning coffee or breakfast cereal.
Two popular options on the market are oat milk and coconut milk. Both have gained a loyal following, but what sets them apart?
While there are many similarities between the two of them, you might prefer one over the other.
What is oat milk?
Oat milk may be a new kid on the block, but boy oh boy is she popular.
At its most basic, oat milk is a popular milk alternative made from oats and water. It has a creamy texture and a slightly sweet taste, making it a popular choice for coffee drinks.
Oats are naturally high in fiber and contain important nutrients like calcium, iron, and magnesium.
Other ingredients, including emulsifiers, gums, and added sugar vary by brand and the specific flavor of oat milk (it is no surprise that a sweetened oat milk is going to have more sugar than a plain flavor).
If you’re concerned about it’s affect on your blood sugar levels, just look for a brand that’s lower in added sugar. You can do this by simply comparing the labels at your local grocery store to find the best option.
Popular brands of oat milk include:
Let’s meet the other contender: coconut milk.
What is coconut milk?
Coconut milk is made from the grated flesh of a mature coconut. It has a rich and creamy consistency, a slightly sweet taste, and subtle coconut flavor.
Coconut milk is rich in medium-chain triglycerides, which have been linked to potential health benefits.
Popular brands of coconut milk include:
For this blog, we’re talking about the cartons of coconut milk, not the super-thick canned coconut milk that’s often used in sauces. Canned coconut milk tends to be much higher in fat and calories than the version in the carton.
This is also much different than coconut water.
So, how are these two drinks similar and how are they different? Let’s start with their nutritional profile.
Both oat milk and coconut milk are plant-based alternatives to dairy milk. However, there are some key differences in their nutritional profiles. Here’s a breakdown of how one cup of each of the two different popular brands compares.
|Oatly Full Fat Chilled Oatmilk||So Delicious Organic Original Coconut Milk|
|Total carbs||15 g||9 g|
|Fiber||2 g||1 g|
|Added sugars||7 g||7 g|
|Protein||3 g||0 g|
Although the exact nutrients in each of these plant-based milks will vary by brand and flavor (sweetened milk will have more sugar), in general, we can take a look at the trends for both for important differences.
Oat milk is higher in carbohydrates and fiber, making it a good option for those looking to increase their fiber intake.
Coconut milk is lower in fiber and higher in saturated fat. The calories depend on the brand, but I’ve found that most coconut milk cartons are lower calorie than oat milk.
Vitamin D, calcium and vitamin B12 will usually be present in the non-dairy milks because of fortification; they’re not naturally occurring in any significant amount in oat milk or coconut milk (or any plant-based milk, for that matter).
These are nutrients that we tend to be low in, so it is helpful to pick a brand of plant-based milk that is fortified, to help close those gaps.
Keep an eye on the added sugar
When choosing either oat milk and coconut milk, keep an eye on the sugar content. The main ingredients should be oats or coconut and water.
Some brands of both types can have added sugars, and some have pretty high amounts. Sugar can certainly make the drink more enjoyable; you don’t need to avoid all sugar, just keep an eye on things and see how these drinks fit into your overall usual choices.
Coffee drinks with syrups can contribute pretty significantly to added sugars, so it might be helpful to think of them as delicious liquid desserts rather than a “cup of coffee.”
Best uses for coconut milk
Coconut milk is a great option for those who are looking for a thicker, creamier milk alternative.
It’s perfect for adding to smoothies, using in baking recipes, or even making dairy-free ice cream.
I love coconut milk as a non-dairy alternative in savory dishes best, like butternut squash soup or making a dairy-free risotto.
Best uses for oat milk
Oat milk is a versatile option that can be used in many different ways.
Personally, I love the taste of oat milk in creamy iced coffee drinks, like non-dairy lattes. Once oat milk took the US by storm, there was no going back for me!
Its creamy texture and slightly sweet taste make it a great addition to coffee or cereal. It can also be used in cooking and baking, as well as for making homemade dairy-free milkshakes.
I like oat milk best in any kind of drink as well as in sweeter applications, such as chia pudding (like this Chocolate Oat Milk Chia Pudding!), homemade popsicles, or coffee drinks of any kind.
Where to buy?
Oat and coconut milks are widely available at your regular grocery store.
If you check out your cereal aisle, you’ll find lots of options for plant-based milks in 1-liter containers right on the shelf. Unopened, these will last a very long time, so they can be helpful to stock up on when they go on sale and tuck into your pantry. Once you open a container, you’ll need to place the milk in the fridge and use it up within a week.
You can find them in the fridge; these won’t last quite as long as the shelf-stable ones; these might be available in much larger containers (up to one gallon), which might be nice if you use a lot of the milk.
Pros and cons of coconut milk vs oat milk
To sum it up, here are some pros and cons of each milk:
- Higher fiber content
- Creamiest texture
- Higher in protein
- Can be higher in carbohydrates (if that is a benefit to you)
- May contain added sugars
- Rich in medium-chain fatty acids
- Creamy texture and subtle coconut flavor
- Lower in calories (if that is a benefit to you)
- High in saturated fat
- No protein
Ready for a fact that will blow your mind? Coconuts are not actually nuts. This is hella confusing since the word nut is literally in the name, but they’re botanically a fruit, and more closely related to peaches than to almonds. Even if you have nut allergies to to almonds or other tree nuts, you’re not likely to have an allergy to coconuts.
How do they compare to regular dairy?
While oat milk and coconut milk are great plant-based options, it’s important to note that they do not have the same nutritional profile as regular dairy milk.
Regular milk is a good source of protein and is often fortified with vitamin D, both of which may be lacking in plant-based milks.
If you choose to switch to these plant-based milk alternatives, make sure to incorporate other sources of protein and vitamin D into your diet.
Other dairy-free options
If you’re looking for dairy-free alternatives that are a bit higher in protein like cow’s milk, try soy milk, pea milk or hemp milk. Almond milk and cashew milk are great options if you want a nutty flavor, but they’re lower in protein.
So, which milk is the better choice? The answer ultimately depends on your personal preference and dietary needs. Both can be a good choice if you’re in need of a dairy-free alternative for a plant-based diet, lactose-intolerant, or if you just don’t like traditional milk.
At the end of the day, they’re not all that different. They can both be a good choice.
No matter which type of milk you choose, I recommend choosing a brand that is fortified with vitamin D, calcium, and Vitamin B12 and doesn’t have tons of added sugar.
Now I’d love to hear from you: which non-dairy milk is your favorite? Comment below!