As alternative milks rise in popularity, an increasing number of products are becoming available. Manufacturers are capitalizing on consumers’ desire to avoid dairy by developing new alternative milk products and marketing them as healthier for you.
Today we’ll take a look at oat milk in particular. Is oat milk actually a healthy option? Is it even gluten free?
Are Oats Gluten Free?
While oats are commonly classified as gluten-free, the reality is, they do contain a different type of gluten protein called avenin. Avenin and oats have been researched in celiac disease patients and found to cause inflammation in those with gluten sensitivity.
One study acknowledges that the expression of avenin genes throughout the development stages has shown a pattern similar to that of prolamins of wheat and barley and found that the specific peptides from oats have a high potential for immunotoxicity in celiac disease patients.
Another study aimed to investigate biological and immunological properties of two oat varieties, Avena genziana and Avena potenza, in relation to their safety for celiac disease patients. It found that both varieties induced markers of inflammatory activity, suggesting a response in those with celiac disease. Avena potenza increased intraepithelial T-cell density, while Avena genziana-induced interferon production.
In addition to the effects of avenin in celiac disease patients, oats are commonly cross contaminated with other gluten-containing grains. In fact, one study looked at the Canadian oat supply and found that approximately 88% of the samples of oats tested were contaminated.
Alternatives to Oat Milk
Many nuts and seeds can be made into an alternative milk. Just about any milk that is made from a plant or nut can be gluten free. However, as with all products, it is important to check the label and trust the company to be certain they are using quality gluten free ingredients and taking care to avoid cross contamination. Some of the most widely available options are listed below:
- Almond milk
- Hemp seed milk
- Flax milk
- Coconut milk (note: coconut milk is available in its rich and creamy full fat version in a can as well as in a carton and marketed as a beverage. Both are good options.)
- Cashew Milk
- Walnut milk
- Hazelnut milk
What To Look For In Alternative Milks
It is important when purchasing alternative milks that you check the label. Many manufacturers use gums and other fillers in order to help give the milk a consistency closer to cows milk, and to prevent the natural separation that occurs in nut and seed based milks. Many of these fillers are difficult to digest and can contribute to problems for those with gluten sensitivity.
Some better brands include:
Make Your Own Gluten Free Alternative Milk
It is actually quite simple to make your own gluten free alternative milk. A basic recipe template can be found here, but it requires 3 basic steps:
- Soak: soak your nuts or seeds overnight
- Blend: blend them with water until smooth
- Strain: strain out the pulp for a smooth, creamy milk
Know that separation is natural in alternative milks that are made without gums and fillers. Just give it a shake before serving!
The Bottom Line
While food label laws claim that oats are gluten free, they don’t take into consideration the avenin in oats. In addition, there is no guarantee that oats haven’t been cross-contaminated with wheat, barley, or rye.
If you have celiac disease or are sensitive to gluten, I recommend avoiding oat milk. Instead, try one of the many alternatives to oat milk that you can try that taste similar to oat milk.
And if you are unsure as to whether you should avoid gluten and oats, or what your next steps are in a gluten-free diet, take the sensitivity test!