Food & Nutrition

Why does Oat Milk Contain so Much Sugar?

We all know that ‘healthy’ things don’t always taste very nice, so it comes as a surprise when a milk alternative comes along that is tastier, healthier, more environmentally friendly, and makes the perfect barista-style foamed milk too. What could be the drawback?

Well, sugar. That is the problem. Yours truly has just finished an article about Oatly oat milk vs Coka Cola and in it, there is a discussion about the amount of sugar that oat milk contains, and how the glycemic load of both are very similar. While the answer to this question is also within that article, we thought it was a nice little addition to expand your knowledge on the subject. 

So, why does Oat Milk contain so much sugar? 


Oatly No Sugar Oat Milk

Why does Oat Milk Contain so Much Sugar?

Today, with all of our scientific knowledge and understanding of the world, we seem to have lost sight of the basics of nutritional natural food. Maybe it is due to the overly processed food we all buy on a weekly basis, or the tone in which YouTube’s many health gurus talk about sugar. 

Sugar is objectively a good thing – so long as it is consumed in moderation – and the sugars we consume are from natural sources. Bananas and fruit are packed with sugar. And so are oats. 

Oats do not contain sugar in the way we think they do. Oats contain very little in the way of natural sugars (only 1% sucrose), but are made up of lots of carbohydrates that can be processed into sugars; firstly, long chains of glucose molecules called starch which make up about 85% of the who oat., and 11% in the form of dietary fiber.

While you can get starch in many grains and vegetables, the not-so-sweet potato for instance, the starch in oats is slightly different. There are three different types – 7% rapidly digested starch (broken down into sugars easily), 22% slowly digested starch (broken down slower into sugars) and 25% resistant starch (basically fiber but helps with digestion and your gut biome). It is also quite high in fat, which gives it the ability to bind with what – which is why we get oat milk. Here are some sources if you need them:  1 (Slowly digestible starch: concept, mechanism, and proposed extended glycemic index), 2, and 3 Health properties of resistant starch.

So, why does Oat Milk contain so much sugar? Well, during the processing of oats into milk, many producers add enzymes to liquefy the oats and release their natural sweetness. The enzymes not only break down the carbohydrates into sugar (maltose), it produces the creamy, luxurious texture we all know and love, and draw out the nutrition from the oats (like the proteins, fats, fibers, and the more robust carbs). 

There is another layer to this too. Oat milk’s remaining carbohydrate content is broken down further by your own digestive enzymes, releasing significantly more maltose while it is being digested. So, while the average Oatly drink only contains 7gs of sugar per serving, each serving has a disproportionate impact in terms of glycemic load (how much sugar is absorbed into the blood). This is an unintended consequence which was the reason why Oatly is often compared to Coca-Cola on tik-tok. You can read the article we wrote to give a fuller understanding of the context of that. 

Final Thoughts

So, why does Oat milk contain so much sugar? Well, it is down to the oats themselves and their huge contents of complex carbohydrates, which break down into sugar during the processing of the milk, and during the process of digestion. While some oat milk producers may fortify their products with added sugars and sweeteners, most don’t. But you should still check the label. 

Regardless, we have come to the end of our answer. If you enjoyed this article then please share it, or write your thoughts in the comment section below. 


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