Is Oatly Oat Drink Like Soda?
The short answer: No! The sugar level is about 3.5g sugar per 100 ml oat drink, which is pretty much the same as in cow’s milk (but then it’s all about lactose instead of maltose). Just as you probably wouldn’t compare whole grains to candy (even though they have carbohydrates as a common nutrient), oat drinks shouldn’t be compared to soda — since comparisons made on one single nutrient only, leave out the bigger picture. For example, you won’t find fiber, unsaturated fats, protein, vitamins or minerals in a soda – but you do find them in our oat drinks. “But oat drink still contains a lot of sugar”, might be your next argument. And to dig into that, we need to move on to the long answer:
Just like all cereal grains, oats are mainly built up of carbohydrates – the family of sugars, fibers and starch - our main source of energy. Generally, half our energy intake should come from carbohydrates, the rest from proteins and fats.* In our oat drink, carbs are present in the form of starch, fibers (like beta-glucans), maltodextrin and lastly, maltose (which is a sugar).
Btw, as we just name-dropped beta-glucans, let us add that these are soluble fibers. Fibers are good for your heart and as a part of a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle they contribute to maintaining normal cholesterol levels in your body.**
The magic of making oat drink
As mentioned above, the sugar level is about 3.5g sugar per 100 ml oat drink, which is pretty much the same as in cow’s milk. And if you happen to be into reading nutrition declarations – and because of that know that oats have just 1.2g sugar per 100g – this is where you might question “why the level is higher in oat drink?”. Well, let us introduce you to our enzymatic process (designed to transform oats into a liquid form), which uses the same type of enzymes as your body does when eating oats. If you, for example, have porridge for breakfast, the enzymes in your digestive system start to break down the starch into sugars – in the same way as in our oat drink. Or more simply put: What normally happens within your body, instead happens in our oat drink factories. A sweet thing - even though we are not adding any sugar whatsoever. The enzymatic process is also the reason why a glass of Oatly tastes much better than the DIY version made by blending oats, water and salt in your kitchen blender.
“But what about the GI levels then?” Good question! Let’s dig deeper into that.
What about the GI and GL of Oatly oat drink?
First, we want to say that the concepts of GI and GL are particularly relevant if you have diabetes. There is evidence suggesting that limiting high GI foods helps keep blood sugar at a stable level in persons who have diabetes. With that said, even for people with diabetes, it’s how big your portion size is and what else you eat or drink that matters most when it comes to blood sugar response, rather than any single food. But we’ll get back to that.
Glycemic Index (GI) is a way to measure different carbohydrates’ effects on the blood sugar level. So-called “fast” carbs, like white bread and sticky rice, have a high GI and make the blood sugar level increase rapidly, whilst food with a low GI (for example pasta, chickpeas and steel-cut oats) gives a slower blood sugar level response. Glycemic Load (GL) does not only consider the blood sugar level response, but also the effect of a normal-sized serving.
GI is measured in accordance with an International standard method (ISO) by having a group of people (with varying gender, age and body weight) consume 50 grams of available carbohydrates from a single food on an empty stomach. GL adjusts the value to consider a reasonable serving size of the food, meaning that the resulting GI and GL values will differ from each other. Watermelon, for example, has a GI value of 80 (a high GI), while its GL value is 5 (a low GL) since you need to eat a lot of watermelon to consume 50 grams of carbs. The GL value makes much more sense in this case. At least that’s what we think (and there is scientific consensus on it, too). As with watermelon, with food and drink with a low carbohydrate content per serving, such as unsweetened dairy and dairy alternatives, the glycemic index is often misleading. The Glycemic load is more meaningful.
Okay, at this point you’re probably eager to find out the GI and GL values for oat drink. We chose to analyze our Oat drink Barista Edition, our most popular drink. Here we go:
GI = 61±8 (GI category medium)
GL (100 ml) = 4 (GI category low)
GL (240 ml) = 9 (GI category low)
As seen above, the analysis showed that the GI value is in the category ’medium’ whereas when serving size (240 ml) is considered, the GL is in the category ’low’ and on par with cow’s milk. In contrast, one glass of soda (240 ml) has a GL of around 17***, which is ’medium’.
That raises the most important question. How much is consumed in a normal serving? One big glass of Oat drink (240 ml), or a dash of Oat drink in your coffee (100 ml), is a pretty normal serving to many people. The GL is ’low’ in both those cases, meaning it has a very minor effect on blood sugar. Sodas, in contrast, are most often bought in bottles of 500 ml. If such a serving of soda (500 ml) is the typical serving size for you, with a calculated GL value of 35, which is ’high’.
It’s the whole diet that matters. For you - and for the planet.
A healthy diet is made up of everything we eat and drink. If you, for example, combine oat drink with müesli, a sandwich, lunch or dinner, it’s always the meal’s total content of fat, fiber, proteins and carbohydrates that should be considered. The quality and quantity of the food, as well as the level of variation in a diet, all together give an individual’s blood sugar response. This means that you should never focus on the GI or GL value of one single food only.
Still, it’s of course smart to choose foods with a composition that’s good for you****. Like… oat drink. The whole idea when inventing oat drink was to meet the human needs of today and be a more sustainable alternative to cow’s milk. Cow’s milk contains saturated fats (that we all should cut down on) but no fiber (that most of us need more of).
A hundred years ago, cow’s milk was “the thing” and considered to be a vital source of nutrition (and sometimes was, to be honest), for example to help fulfill people’s protein requirements. But times have changed and today the situation looks different — most people get all the protein they need without even looking at cow’s milk.
Apart from the fact that oat drink is good from a nutritional perspective, it’s also known that plant-based eating will help reduce water and land use, wildlife loss and greenhouse gas emissions. On average cow’s milk has a much higher climate impact than oat drink.*****
* EFSA (European Food Safety Authority), 2017. Dietary Reference Values for nutrients. Summary report. EFSA supporting publication 2017: 14( 12):e15121. 98 pp. doi: 10.2903/sp.efsa.2017.e15121
** One 250 ml glass of Oatly contains 1 g of beta-glucans, third one-third of 3 g suggested daily intake. *** University of Sidney. The GI database. https://glycemicindex.com/ (accessed 2022-08-30)
**** A diet high in whole grains, fiber, fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, and low in red meat, trans- and saturated fat, salt and sugar.
A) Gan et al. Association between Plant-Based Dietary Patterns and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. Nutrients. 2021 Nov 5;13(11):3952
B) Quek et al. The Association of Plant-Based Diet with Cardiovascular Disease and Mortality: A Meta-Analysis and Systematic Review of Prospect Cohort Studies. Front Cardiovasc Med. 2021 Nov 5;8:756810.
C) Stubbendorff A, et al. Development of an EAT-Lancet index and its relation to mortality in a Swedish population. Am J Clin Nutr. 2022 Mar 4;115(3):705-716.
***** A) Poore, J., & Nemecek, T. (2018). Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science, 360(6392), 987-992. (With additional calculations for the BBC’s food calculator provided by J. Poore on oatmilk, almond milk, and rice milk.) https://ourworldindata.org/environmental-impact-milkshttps://doi.org/10.1126/science.aaq0216
B) Multiple Oatly Carbon Cloud analyses for Europe: Oatly Barista Edition UK/British cows milk 3% fat; Oatly Barista edition Finland/Finnish cow´s milk; Oatly original Sweden/Swedish cow´s milk 1,5 % fat (Can produce upon request)
C) Carlsson Kanyama, A.; Hedin, B.; Katzeff, C. Differences in Environmental Impact between Plant-Based Alternatives to Dairy and Dairy Products: A Systematic Literature Review. Sustainability 2021, 13, 12599. https://doi.org/10.3390/su132212599