Welcome to Ask A Dietitian, a series where Yahoo Canada digs into food trends and popular nutrition questions with registered dietitian Abbey Sharp.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.
Soy, almond and oat milks are just some of many alternatives to the traditional dairy drink.
Debates around what alternative is the healthiest have resurfaced on TikTok, but are they true? Yahoo Canada asked Canadian dietitian Abbey Sharp, on what you need to know about the contents and benefits of each milk alternative.
The TikTok debate over oat milk
Several wellness influencers on TikTok are spreading the message that oat milk is the "worst" alternative to cow milk.
One TikToker, Steph Robinson shared a video in late September saying oat milk is the "worst possible milk you could consume," as it "spikes your blood sugar and causes a crash."
She added she would "not recommend oat milk," and that many brands of it contain "so many" additives.
Other TikTok users in the comments were surprised to hear that.
"I'm crying I thought oat milk was so healthy," one commented.
"Why does everything that tastes good have bad side effects — I'm tired," another quipped.
Another wellness influencer chimed in with advice: "In terms of the oat milk with sugar — it may not have a blood sugar spiking effect if you have it paired with a protein and fat-based snack." Robinson responded saying, "Yes, 100 per cent, most people drink coffee on an empty stomach before food though."
Expert weighs in on oat milk
According to expert dietitian Sharp, there's some truth to this. Oat milk, as it's not derived from an animal or a nut, does contain natural sugars.
"It's actually specifically rich in a sugar called maltose, which gives it a higher glycemic index. It has a GI of 59, which is significantly higher than most milks or non-dairy milks out there." The exceptions are coconut and rice milk which have higher GIs, Sharp explained.
"So, yes... If you're just taking a glass of it, or having it in your coffee, it may increase blood sugars transiently, which may result in a little bit of a energy crash... But this to me is really not an issue for most people."
Sharp explained this blood sugar spike can be "easily mitigated" by having something to eat with your oat milk, specifically something that contains fibre, protein and healthy fats.
I think people love to harp on these things to make a huge deal out of them," she claimed.
Unless you're drinking oat milk by the gallon, I really don't see any issues with having a splash or two.Abbey Sharp
Sharp also said a common additives people often bring up are dipotassium phosphate and grapeseed oil.
Dipotassium phosphate, she explained, helps to prevent plant based milks from splitting, and it's "totally safe for the general public." It actually provides about 20 per cent of a person's daily phosphorus needs, Sharp claimed. "It's actually not all-bad at all."
As far as grapeseed oil, which is generally added because oats don't contain a lot of fat, Sharp said "not only is it completely fine in moderation, but it actually has a very, very favorable Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio."
What about other milk alternatives like almond and soy?
When it comes to milk alternatives, Sharp said it's a "beautiful thing" that there are so many options. "It really comes down to what your goals are and how those goals dictate how you view healthy." However, there are some traits that make some "healthier" than others.
Here's where each popular alternative stands.
To Sharp, soy milk is "one of the best options out there" and it's the closest to cow milk in terms of nutritional value.
contains eight grams of protein per cup, around 100 calories and around nine grams of sugars
generally enriched with calcium and vitamin D
contains more B vitamins than cow's milk
contains "great anti-cancer compounds," isoflavones
lowest in calories, it can be as low as 30-35 calories a cup
is very low in protein, not much more than a gram or so per cup
usually fortified with calcium and vitamin D
However, Sharp said almond milk is "not a great alternative for children who ultimately need the calories and the protein."
contains around 130 calories per cup, sometimes more if it's sweetened
contains more carbs, around 20 grams per cup and around four grams of protein
contains more B vitamins than cow's milk
Sharp warns oat milk can contain traces of gluten, so it's not be appropriate for folks that have celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
Others (macadamia, coconut & pea)
Other nut-based milk alternatives, such and macadamia or cashew milk are on-par with almond milk, Sharp claimed. "They're predominantly water that's been fortified with some extra vitamins."
Coconut milk contains the highest glycemic index, and is "great for adding a specific flavour, not so much in the nutrition department."
Pea milk, from yellow peas, contains the same amount of protein as soy and cow's milk, and has a comparable amount of calories. It "can be really great alternative for kids and adults who are sensitive to cow's milk and soy... Make sure you're choosing one that is fortified with calcium and vitamin D."