Oatmilk is the latest plant-based milk to become popular here in the United States. Every time I talk about the best milk for toddlers I get asked if oat milk is a good option for toddlers. As in everything nutrition related, it’s not a simple yes or no question. I’m answering all of the common questions and concerns about oat milk for toddlers below, so that you are able to make the choice for your own family if it is an option.
Can oat milk replace cow’s milk for toddlers?
This is really the main question that parents have, so let’s get it out of the way now. In certain circumstances, yes, oat milk can replace cow’s milk and be nutritionally adequate. But not in all instances, and not all oat milks.
Many oat milks are not adequate in calories, fat, or protein for toddlers. Many others are not fortified with essential nutrients that toddlers need to help them meet their needs.
What to look for in an oat milk for toddlers
Usually, plant based milks are compared to cow’s milk, as that is the standard drink that kids are given in the United States. I also like to compare them to breast milk, as that has a slightly different nutritional profile and is the best, and most tailored, milk for toddlers even as they grow older.
Oat milk needs to have adequate calories
First and foremost, find one that has between 140-170 calories per 8 oz ideally. It’s okay if it’s right outside of this range, but this is really what we’re looking for.
Make sure the oat milk has enough fat for toddlers
Oat milk in it's purest form is just water and oats. That doesn’t provide adequate fat for brain development for your toddler. It also isn’t going to give it enough calories for them at the end of the day. Fat is incredibly important, especially for kids 2 and under, and is vital to have in a milk.
Aim for at least 7-8g of fat in 8oz. For comparison sake, the average breastmilk would have 11g of fat, and whole cow’s milk would be 8g of fat.
Protein is an important consideration in oat milk for toddlers
Protein is a bit of a complicated topic when it comes to milk alternatives. Milks like almond milk have only around 1g of protein, and minimal fat. Both things that make it not a a good choice for toddlers.
But what if there is a milk that has adequate fat content, does it still need higher protein amounts?
This is really where the difference is found between cow’s milk and breastmilk. Cow’s milk has 8g of protein per 8oz. Breastmilk, on the other hand, has only 2.5g per 8oz on average.
So that might help you to see why I am not set on kids having a milk with 8g of protein. Breastmilk tends to be more about fat and less about protein, which is something to keep in mind for the plant-based milks as we compare them.
Your protein goal
Having higher protein amounts than 1g is a good goal to set, especially because some of the plant-based milk alternatives, like oat milk, can potentially have a larger effect on blood sugar than cow’s milk or breast milk. Higher protein amounts will help to offset that effect.
Higher protein can also help to keep our kids fuller longer, and along with the fat content can help them not to need a ton of ounces of milk to feel satisfied.
Amino acids in oat milk
Another consideration when it comes to protein is the amino acid profile. There are 9 essential amino acids, and when a food has them all it is considered a complete protein source. Both cow’s milk and soy milk contain all 9 essential amino acids.
Oat milk by itself does not contain all 9 essential amino acids. For toddlers that aren’t able to have any dairy, and don’t have a varied diet otherwise, this becomes an bigger concern. For toddlers who eat a good variety of other foods, the amino acid profile is lower down on my list of concerns.
Bottom line with protein and oat milk? It’s good to have around 7-8g of protein per 8oz, but it’s not a deal breaker.
Oat milk needs to be fortified for toddlers
Just like all other plant-based milks, and even cow’s milk, oat milk needs to be fortified to make it appropriate for toddlers.
One of the main benefits to our toddlers drinking milk between the ages of 1 and 2 is that it can help them to transition from a liquid heavy diet to a food heavy diet. To help them do this, we want to get some bang for our buck and make sure they’re getting all the nutrients they need.
At a minimum, the oat milk needs to be fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
Other good to have fortifications are riboflavin (B2) and B12, as well as iodine. Dairy is a major source of iodine, and while most plant-based milks are unfortunately not fortified with it, it is something to keep in mind as we're looking for milks.
Added sugars in oat milk for toddlers
With the new FDA labeling laws here in the United States, you’ll notice that oat milks now all say they have added sugar in them. But if you read the ingredients, there’s nothing that is an added sugar in the list. So what’s the deal?
Every company makes and processes their oat milk differently, which results in different amounts of added sugar. But they all inherently breakdown the oats to make the milk.
This break down process results in what is technically added sugar (maltose and glucose, to be specific.) So it’s not exactly the same as if they were just putting sugar in as an ingredient, but sugar does result.
With that said, oat milk is a newer product. There isn’t a ton of research out there on it’s physiological effect on our body.
Especially the effect of oat milks with more fat and protein than just oats and water.
We can surmise that things like the beta-glucans in oats, which are still present in oat milks, can help blunt the effect of any blood sugar spike that may occur from these sugars. But I can’t tell you confidently one way or the other at this point.
Canola oil and sunflower oils in oat milks
The other thing to consider when it comes to choosing oat milks is the type of fat that is added. Many companies add rapeseed oil (known as canola oil here in the US) or sunflower oil. These are both oils that have high omega-6 fatty acid compositions.
Eating too many omega 6’s, and not enough omega 3 fatty acids, has been shown in some cases to lead to more inflammation in our bodies.
Finding an oat milk with a better fat source, and a more balanced fatty acid profile would be a better option than one that simply has canola or sunflower oil. This isn’t a deal breaker, again, but something to keep in mind.
The best oat milk for toddlers
With all that being said, what oat milk would I recommend buying? If you are not breastfeeding, and cannot or choose not to give cow’s milk or soy milk, then oat milk can be an option for your toddler.
I put it in line with pea milk as far as desirability for toddlers from a nutritional standpoint. (Check out this post for a rundown of other plant-based milk options and a full table with nutritional comparisons of all of them.)
There are very few on the market in the United States that meet the qualifications I’ve laid out here. The two that I have found are Calfia Farms Original Protein Oat Milk, and Oatly Full Fat Oat Milk.
If you take a closer look at them, neither of them are perfect. They are missing some protein, or fortification, or have canola oil as their fat source. But overall, they are adequate and acceptable to give to most toddlers.
The Bottom Line on Oat Milk for Toddlers
Milk, and milk alternatives, are a very complicated topic. There is no one right answer for everyone. The makeup of your toddler’s diet, your personal diet preferences, and many other things go into choosing a milk. The best thing you can do if you are giving anything other than breast milk or cow’s milk to your toddler is to meet one on one with a dietitian. They can help you go over your child’s diet, where the nutrient gap might be, and what your best choice is for milk.
If you’re looking for help with other aspects of milk and dairy, be sure to check out the articles about transitioning to milk from breast milk or formula, getting rid of bottles, how much milk is too much, breastfeeding after 1, the best yogurt, and the best cheese for your child.
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