Both oat and almond milk are made by soaking the grains in water, blending them, and then straining out the pulp. This pulp will decay in a landfill and release methane, a greenhouse gas 80 times worse than carbon dioxide.
Is oat milk environmentally friendly?
Oat milk performs well in taste tests when compared to other milk substitutes since it is naturally sweet. People prefer it in coffee, smoothies, and cereal because it tends to be creamier as well.
Oat milk has a range of nutritional values because different brands include vitamins and minerals. Oat milk is a close second to soy milk, which may always be the protein leader among plant-based beverages.
Spoiler alert: At milk compares favorably in terms of environmental impact. A liter of oat milk requires 48 liters of water to make. Even though it may seem like a lot, oat milk uses much less water to make than any other milk substitute. Additionally, it produces the least greenhouse gas emissions and needs 80% less land.
Oat milk typically beats out almond beverages in taste tests. However, because they are often less creamy, they might curdle when added to hot liquids.
Almond beverages compare favorably to other milk substitutes in terms of nutrition. Compared to oat milk, almond beverages have less calories but more fat. On calories, they outperformed soy beverages, but not on protein.
Almond beverages lack the nutritional density of whole almonds. Because of the process used to make them, almond beverages lack many of the nutrients that are available in large quantities in whole almonds.
Almond beverages use more water than oat milk does overall. A single almond requires 12 liters of water to produce, and they are frequently grown in dry climates. Positively, cultivating almonds doesn’t produce a lot of greenhouse gas emissions.
The original substitute for milk was soy drinks. Although they have been around for over 600 years, commercial production did not begin in the United States until 1917. The popularity of soy beverages declined in the 1980s as a result of claims that soy contains hormones that are similar to those found in humans.
Later research revealed that a person would need to consume an absurdly high amount of soy to experience any negative effects. Later research even revealed that the modest amount of hormones included in soy was beneficial for women.
Soybeans are pressed to create soy drinks. The remaining liquid is milky white once the insoluble fiber has been eliminated. Then, vitamins and minerals are frequently incorporated. After almond beverages, soy beverages are the second most popular milk substitute and score highly in taste testing.
When compared nutritionally, soy beverages also fare pretty well. Since soybeans are inherently strong in protein, the protein content of soymilk is not diminished. Similar to oat milk, choosing organic items is essential if you want to stay away from toxic pesticides.
Production of soy beverages has a patchy environmental history. Soybeans consume less than a tenth of the water needed to grow almonds and have comparatively low greenhouse gas emissions. The drawback is that growing soybeans requires a lot more land than growing almonds.
Before 2018, it was against the law to cultivate hemp in the US, so all of the hemp seed used in American beverages was an import. Simply combine hemp seeds and water to make hemp beverages. Many variations additionally contain thickening agents, salt, and sweeteners.
The flavor of hemp beverages is nutty and earthy. They resemble cow’s milk the least of all the milk substitutes, but most people find they taste great in cereal, coffee, and smoothies. Hemp beverages compare favorably nutritionally to other milk substitutes because they are abundant in protein and good fats.
Prior to its prohibition in the US in 1937, hemp was regarded as a particularly hardy crop. The need for pesticides in hemp harvests is low, according to a new generation of hemp growers. Hemp compares favorably to other crops used to make milk substitutes in early environmental studies.
The white flesh of mature coconuts is grated, and shredded coconut pulp is combined with hot water to make coconut drinks. While there are some good micronutrients in coconuts, the majority of the nutrition in coconut drinks comes from additional vitamins and nutrients.
The environmental impact of coconut milk varies depending on who you ask, just like soybeans. On the plus side, coconut trees use less water and absorb carbon dioxide than dairy cows do. The drawback is that as demand rises, there is pressure to use vital rainforest land for coconut production because coconuts can only be grown in tropical climates.
How come oat milk is so bad?
The majority of the rest of the globe had a bad 2020, but Oatly did well. During the epidemic, the Swedish oat milk manufacturer had a 212% spike in revenues. Earlier this year, the company filed for a potentially huge IPO, with an estimated price of more than $5 billion. After adding the brand to its coffeeshops in March, Oatly is now experiencing shortages brought on by an increase in orders from Starbucks. Previously, Oatly only saw shortages as a cool problem to have. It’s a rare milk substitute that appears to have spread beyond vegans and lactose intolerant people to the general population who consumes beverages.
Being able to drink what is essentially ground up oatmeal has been given a halo of virtue thanks in large part to Oatly. The fact that oat milk has a far lower carbon footprint than cow’s milk, like virtually other plant-based goods, is one component of that halo. The slogan of Oatly is “milk, but produced for humans,” but the company goes farther. What exactly does that mean? It is clear that the Swedes are producing this for human consumption, but is it truly healthier than milk or other milk substitutes, as the business seems to suggest?
A writer named Jeff Nobbs first advanced the case against Oatly a little over a year ago, going into great detail about its unhealthiness (and, to his credit, sharing an Oatly rebuttal). Nat Eliason then added a critique of the company’s advertising, which he considers to be as deceptive as ad campaigns for Coca-Cola and cigarettes. The first is that Oatly contains canola oil, which gives it a richness akin to milk, which is one prong of the argument that Oatly is, in fact, unhealthy for you. The second is that Oatly is produced in such a way that the complex carbohydrates in oats are practically reduced to pure sugar. Both of these statements are correct, however Nobbs grossly exaggerates the effects on health.
Canola oil is the easy part. Oatly contains canola oil, sometimes known as rapeseed oil, but Nobbs interprets this to mean that Oatly also contains trans fats, despite the fact that the carton states that Oatly has zero trans fats, a claim that is subject to FDA regulation. Eliason includes some eerie language (“The evidence for the harms of canola oil is still in its early days, but continues to grow). However, the general belief is that canola oil is generally OK, despite the fact that processed oils are not optimal.
The sugar component is a little trickier. What is evident is that maltose, a simple sugar, is produced during the process of turning oats into oat milk. Complex carbohydrates are better for you than more refined carbohydrates like maltose. You don’t want them to increase blood sugar and insulin levels more than necessary. This can be measured using a tool known as the glycemic index. Higher values are not good. (The glycemic index provides a general explanation of why 100 calories of whole grains are healthier than 100 calories of refined sugar.)
Nobbs continues by suggesting that the alternative milk is less healthful than a doughnut using the glycemic index of pure maltose rather than Oatly itself, however that is not how the glycemic index functions.
Individual ingredients cannot be evaluated in isolation. Additionally, the glycemic index does not fully describe the nutritional value of a dish. Nobbs then flips units of measurement and asserts that a 12 oz amount is roughly similar to a can of Coke using his estimation of the overall glycemic load of oatly, which takes serving size into consideration. That is accurate, however by this metric, two pieces of whole-wheat bread are worse for you than either due to their higher glycemic load. The major issue with Coke is that it contains no nutrients, but Oatly contains fiber, vitamins, and a little amount of unsaturated fat despite being less nutrient-dense.
Oatly is heavily processed, which is not a good thing, because nothing is good in excess. It wouldn’t be good if you drank an entire carton every day. But generally speaking, any milk substitute that you’d actually want to consume contains oil or a thickening to make it taste good. And we’re discussing a substance that the majority of people just add a tiny amount of to their coffee. Is Oatly especially healthful? No. Is consuming a little Oatly okay without compromising your diet? Sure.
The Oatly response, though, makes more sense in light of the company’s obnoxious and omnipresent promotion. Remember the CEO of that company singing, “Wow, no cow! in a field of oats,” in their Super Bowl commercial? Although it was dubbed as one of the worst Super Bowl commercials ever, the business appears to have taken pleasure in the negative publicity.
Which substitute milk is the most environmentally friendly?
Understanding the resources that different plants require to thrive and the potential environmental impact that they may have is crucial when comparing the environmental effects of plant milks.
A recent study comparing the environmental effects of dairy, soy, almond, oat, and rice milks with data from over 10,000 farms throughout the world came to the conclusion that any nondairy milk is better for the environment than dairy (4).
Dairy production really uses nine times as much land as plant milk production and may have a three times greater greenhouse gas impact. Plant milks don’t need natural resources to rear animals, unlike dairy milk (4).
Commercial milk facilities still need access to limited resources like land and water. As a result of their production, greenhouse gases such carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are released. These gases are a factor in global warming (5).
But there are advantages and disadvantages to each plant-based milk. Investigating the data that is available and determining which environmental elements are most significant to you may help you choose the finest one.
There is currently no objective method for ranking plant milk’s effects on the environment. However, it’s advisable to stay away from soy and oat milks if you’re worried about land usage and almond and rice milks if you’re worried about water use.
Because so much land is needed to produce it, soy is one of the main causes of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, along with beef. According to one study, a 4-cup (1-liter) serving of soy milk needs about 1 square mile (2.6 square kilometers) of land each year (4).
The majority of soy crops, however, are cultivated to feed cattle and manufacture biofuel rather than to make soymilk for people. In fact, according to some sources, just a very small portion of soy farmed globally is produced for human use (6).
One country alone is in charge of 35% of the world’s soy production. The good news is that less deforestation has occurred as a result of the Amazon Soy Moratorium, a decision by grain traders not to purchase soy produced on recently cleared land (7, 8, 9).
Additionally, some soy milk producers, like Silk, assert that they solely utilize organic soybeans farmed in the United States, eliminating the impact of Amazon deforestation.
Although soy may require a lot of area, it has other advantages. Soybean crops, like other legumes, assist in fixing nitrogen in the soil, which minimizes the demand for nitrogen fertilizers (10).
Almond milk requires a lot more water than soy or oat milk, making it one of the most water-intensive plant milks. According to a study supported by the California Almond Board, each California almond requires 3.2 gallons (12.1 liters) of water to grow (11).
Almonds had a much higher water footprint than apples, grapes, tomatoes, oranges, peaches, cherries, potatoes, and carrots in a different study that evaluated the water footprint of nine crops in Australia (12).
In fact, almond cultivation required so much water that the writers advised against it (12).
A second challenge to water resources is that California, where 80% of the world’s almonds are farmed, has recently undergone severe droughts (13).
According to studies, nuts demand more land resources than rice, but less than oatmeal (4).
The hemp plant is environmentally benign because it produces a large yield and all of its parts can be used. The stalks and roots are used to manufacture construction materials, textile fibers, hemp paper, and plastics, while the leaves and seeds are used to make milk and oil (14, 15).
Additionally, hemp naturally resists illnesses and produces shade that inhibits the growth of weeds. Because of these elements, hemp may be grown with fewer pesticides and herbicides. Their extensive roots might also improve the soil in which they are planted (15).
Is oat milk more environmentally harmful than milk?
For a very long time, soy was the sole, or at the very least the most easily accessible, alternative for those of us who drank non-dairy milk. Soy milk is unquestionably superior to cow’s milk in terms of its effect on the environment.
- Emissions of greenhouse gases: A 200 ml glass of soy milk produces about 0.195 kilogram of CO2e. According to research by scientist David Pimentel, it takes 14 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce 1 calorie of milk protein. In contrast, producing 1 calorie of milk from organic soybeans uses only 0.26 calories of fossil fuel.
- Water: To manufacture one liter of soy milk, 297 liters of water are needed. Even though it sounds like a lot of water, which it is, less than a third of the water required to make cow’s milk.
Because soy milk currently occupies a significant portion of our land, land use represents soy milk’s probable demise. Notably, portions of the Amazon rainforest are being cleared primarily to make way for soy fields. It’s vital to keep in mind that, rather than being utilized to make soy milk, 85% of soy beans are currently used to feed animals and produce oil.