Is Oat Milk Whole30-Compliant? A Comprehensive Guide to Milk Alternatives.
Despite the dairy industry's best efforts, it seems like every day there is a new milk alternative on the market. Due to lactose intolerance, full-blown dairy allergies, and general preference, we've tried most of them here in the Monster casa.
Monster 1 LOVES oat milk, but we buy it very rarely because, unfortunately, oat milk--even unsweetened oat milk--is NOT paleo or Whole30 compliant.
Oats, though considered by many in the nutritional space to be a superfood and staple of healthy eating, are a grain, and grains are eliminated on a Whole30 diet.
Why are grains non-compliant?
The Whole30 identifies grains as a food group that increases gut permeability, or the likelihood that undesirable substances will cross through the gut and into the rest of the body, potentially causing chronic inflammation. This includes both processed and whole grains. While gluten-containing grains may present the greatest health risk, non-gluten grains still contain antinutrients such as lectins, phytates, and saponins, which can decrease the absorption of important nutrients such as magnesium, calcium, zinc, and iron. Legumes are outlawed for similar reasons.
It should be noted that most nuts are actually quite high in phytates as well, and even leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables contain some antinutrients. The main difference is that most people eat nuts sparingly, not as the bulk of their diet, as grains tend to be. As for the spinach and broccoli, their nutrient load far outweighs their antinutrient burden, especially when compared to starchy, calorie-laden grains. Veggies tend to be higher in fiber as well.
What other milks are non-compliant?
Dairy milk--from cows, goats, etc. All dairy is disallowed.
Soy milk--soy, like (almost) all legumes, is disallowed.
Silk Next Milk--contains soy.
Rice milk--rice, like oats, fall into the grain category.
Anything that contains dairy, soy, grains, added sweeteners of any kind, carrageenan, or any other non-compliant ingredient.
What about pea protein?
When we did our first Whole30, we shelved our beloved Good Karma flax milk because it contained pea protein, outlawed at the time because it was legume-derived. However, as of a 2020 rule change, peas, widely considered to be a "hypoallergenic" protein source due to their gentle-on-the-tummy nature, are now allowed. As long as the pea protein does not contain sweeteners, grains, or other non-compliant ingredients, it is perfectly acceptable as a fortifier in non-dairy milks.
What should you look out for?
The first rule to always keep in mind is check your labels! The best way to rule out soy, dairy, peanuts, and wheat from any product is to check the allergen disclaimer. After that, you'll have to check the finer print. Other than the previously mentioned soy (including soy lecithin) and any type of grain, the two main things to look out for on ingredient labels are carrageenan and any kind of sweetener.
Carrageenan, also called Irish moss, is derived from red seaweed and is used for its thickening power. Even though seaweed sounds safe enough, carrageenan consumption has been linked to IBS, chronic inflammation, and even colon cancer. In fact, according to the National Library of Medicine, degraded carrageenan is a known carcinogen, not allowed in U.S. food production, and food-grade carrageenan may be more carcinogenic than previously thought. [Source: National Library of Medicine]
Sweeteners may include everything from organic cane sugar to maple syrup to monk fruit to stevia to erythritol to dextrose. That's right, it's not enough to check for added sugar on the nutrition label; even calorie-free, non-nutritive sweeteners are out for a Whole30. Always read the ingredient list!
What about other additives?
The walnut milk in my fridge right now, though compliant, has a pretty extensive ingredient list, including the following: calcium carbonate, tapioca starch, sunflower lecithin, dipotassium phosphate, inulin, natural flavor, gellan gum, organic locust bean gum, dl-alpha-tocopheryl, acetate, ergocalciferol, and Vitamin A palmitate.
Some of those sound a little intimidating, but they aren't ruled out on the Whole30.
Other compliant additives you might see are xanthan gum, guar gum, Vitamin D, potassium citrate, natural vanilla flavor, Vitamin B, or acacia gum. Some people do have a sensitivity to gums, so if those are something you already know affect you or you want to explore that more, you may want to avoid those on your Whole30 as well.
Other than carrageenan and sweeteners, the only additives that are specifically considered off limits are corn starch (grain-derived) and sulfites, including sulfur dioxide, sodium bisulfate, and potassium metabisulfite.
So what milks are compliant?
Assuming you've checked the labels for anything outlawed above, you should feel pretty comfortable considering UNSWEETENED versions of the following compliant:
There could potentially be dozens of other options at your local grocery stores; you get the idea.
Which milk is best for you?
Finding the best nondairy milk for you or your family will largely be a matter of preference.
My first two monsters weened from breast milk to cow's milk, as sternly directed by the pediatrician. Monster 1 developed terrible stomach pains and switched to goat's milk, but Monster 2 would have worn a CamelBak backpack filled with cow's milk at all times, constantly streaming, if allowed.
We tried the same for Monster 3, but he was diagnosed with several food allergies, including dairy. Both cow and goat milk were out.
Finding a nondairy milk he would actually drink was significantly harder than we expected. For a while we were doing a combination of banana milk, almond milk, and coconut milk, before finally settling on flax milk.
Monster 5 loved flax milk so much he would cry if I tried to sneak something else into his cup. However, flax milk is insanely expensive, and we are a family of seven. So . . . now we mostly do coconut milk, with almond milk as a backup, and the occasional wildcard like the walnut milk currently in the fridge.
Almond milk versus coconut milk:
Almond milk, like any nut milk, would be a bad choice for those with tree-nut allergies. Additionally, almonds can be goitrogenic, potentially causing problematic thyroid goiters. It is unclear how much of a threat there might be from consuming almond milk, which would be heavily diluted, but I suppose the potential risk exists, especially for those with hypothyroidism who are already at greater risk for developing a thyroid goiter.
There has been some correlation between almond-milk consumption and stomach troubles, but it sounds like most of those cases had carrageenan to blame--so compliant almond milk shouldn't be a problem. Recently almond milk has also come into the headlines as being problematic for the environment due to the massive amounts of water used for almond cultivation. Nutcellars.com hails Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, and hazelnuts as being particularly sustainable, so if you find those nut milks at your local store, you may want to give them a try!
Almond milk is lower in fat than coconut milk, which generally makes it lower in calories, but also makes it a pretty undesirable replacement for milk or creamer in coffee--though, if I could find any local coffee shops making unsweetened almond milk lattes, I wouldn't hesitate to try one!
Coconut milk is generally creamier than almond milk, making it a good option for a compliant creamer for your coffee or compliant coffee drink. While almond milk is very low in protein compared to dairy milk, coconut milk is even lower.
However, like coconut oil and coconut cream, coconut milk contains MCFAs, or medium chain fatty acids, which are "good fats" because of the way they are absorbed in the body and may be considered part of a healthy diet. [Source: National Library of Medicine] Coconut-derived MCT oil is often used as a brain-and-energy-boosting supplement, and has even been linked to memory maintenance in Alzheimer's patients. [Source: National Library of Medicine]
It is unclear whether the diluted "coconut milk beverages" we buy at the store would have these kinds of benefits, but they sure improve the experience of drinking my dark roast in the mornings!
Which brands are the best?
If you're looking for compliant non-dairy milk alternatives, here are some great options:
Silk makes compliant unsweetened coconut, unsweetened almond, unsweetened coconut-almond, unsweetened cashew, and more. Be ware that Almond Breeze also makes a coconut almond blend, but it contains carrageenan and is therefore not compliant.
Califia Farms makes unsweetened almond milk, but I can only find the sweetened varieties at my local stores. Their Toasted Coconut Almond Milk is delicious, but it contains monk fruit extract, an added sweetener, and is therefore non-compliant.
Kirkland Signature (Costco brand) boxed, shelf-stable (boxes must be refrigerated only after opening). almond milk is great to keep in the pantry for all kinds of cooking needs.
Good Karma unsweetened flax milk (vanilla or original) is a Monster fave, but super pricy.
New Barn Organics makes almond milk with 3 simple ingredients: almonds, water, and sea salt. Their coconut milk has a slightly longer ingredients list, with water, coconut cream, acacia fiber, sunflower lecithin, and sea salt.
Malk unsweetened almond milk similarly contains simply almonds, water, and Himalayan pink salt. They also make a simple oat milk for those not on a Whole30.
New Barn and Malk would be excellent choices for anyone sensitive to gums or fillers, but they may be harder to find. My local grocery-store brand is actually my favorite (most affordable and best tasting) compliant coconut milk at the moment, so for most people, there should be plenty of options!
DIY nut milks:
If you can't find the kind of milk you want, or you just want to be able to control the process, making your own almond milk (or any kind of nut milk) is always an option as well.
You will need:
a high-powered blender, immersion blender, or food processor,
a nut-milk bag (available online)
a storage vessel
optional: salt, vanilla beans or vanilla extract
Basically, you will soak your nuts in plenty of water, blend them up, transfer the mixture to your nut-milk bag, squeeze all the liquid out into a bowl, add optional flavoring agents, transfer to your storage vessel, and chill till ready to use.
The bottom line:
Oat milk is out for your Whole30 because oats are grains. However, plenty of good options exist. You may even find that you don't miss dairy milk at all once those 30 days are up. Happy Whole30-ing!