Oat Milk vs. Almond Milk: Which is the right choice when thinking about sustainability?
The ever-growing trend of plant-based milk has captured the hearts and fridges of people around the world. With a rising awareness of sustainability and the desire for eco-friendly options, vegan milk alternatives have surged in popularity. Among the most favored choices are almond milk and oat milk, each with its unique set of benefits. But which of these dairy-free options is truly more environmentally friendly? Let’s dive into the facts and examine the environmental impact of oat milk versus almond milk.
The Oat Milk Revolution
In the mid-2010s, oat milk was a novel concept and was not even mentioned in comprehensive reports on plant-based milk sales. Fast forward to 2020, and oat milk has secured its place as the second most popular milk alternative. Oats, the grain from which oat milk derives, are a versatile and sustainable crop grown worldwide. Compared to other grains, oats require relatively few resources and have a positive impact on the soil.
Resources Used – Land & Water
Oats demand between 17 and 26 inches of water per growing season, comparable to soybean, rice, and potato crops. Being a cool-season crop, oats are efficient in water usage due to their low moisture loss, unlike summer crops. To produce one gallon of oat milk, an estimated 13 gallons of water is required, excluding the water used to transform oats into milk.
Oats are a seed crop that grows on long, leafy stems, yielding around 67 bushels per acre. One remarkable advantage of growing oats is the practice of crop rotation. Oat fields can be utilized for other crops when oats are not in season, enhancing soil quality, preventing erosion, and promoting ecological balance.
Oats are highly adaptable, thriving in diverse environments and soil types. They grow abundantly across continents like Europe, the Americas, and Australia. With leading oat producers including Russia, Canada, Australia, and the U.S., oats have a short journey from field to consumer, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Drawbacks: Pesticides and Fertilizers and greenhouse Gas Emissions
Oat milk stands out with the lowest carbon footprint among cow’s milk, almond milk, and soy milk. A seven-ounce glass emits approximately 0.4 pounds of carbon dioxide. While oat milk production generates byproducts in the form of leftover pulp, these can often be repurposed for livestock feed or renewable energy sources.
Though some oat crops may require synthetic treatments like pesticides and fertilizers, certified organic oats prove that these chemicals are not essential for their growth. Sustainable practices and organic farming further reduce environmental impact.
The Almond Milk Dominance
Almond milk holds a commanding 63% share of dairy milk alternatives, becoming a favorite among health-conscious consumers due to its lower caloric content. However, when it comes to sustainability, it faces some significant challenges, particularly concerning water consumption.
Resources Used: Land & Water
Almonds are incredibly thirsty trees, requiring about 36 inches of water per season, twice the amount needed for oats. The majority of almond cultivation takes place in California, where the almond industry’s water demand puts enormous stress on local aquifers, leading to land subsidence and harming river ecosystems.
While almond orchards occupy slightly less space than oat fields, they lack the benefits of crop rotation. Almond trees live for 25 years and need consistent care year-round, offering no opportunities for ecological balance or biodiversity. Additionally, almond trees can only grow in specific, water-stressed regions, making them geographically limited. These factors make almond cultivation less sustainable compared to growing oats. Oats, on the other hand, require less water and can be grown in a wider range of regions. They also offer the benefits of crop rotation, which helps to prevent disease and nutrient depletion in the soil. Oat fields can support a greater variety of wildlife and promote ecological balance.
In terms of water usage, growing almonds contributes to the depletion of already stressed local aquifers in California. This can lead to land subsidence, where the ground sinks as the water table is depleted, causing infrastructure damage and other environmental problems. The high water demand of almond trees also harms river ecosystems, as it requires diverting water from rivers and other sources, affecting their natural flow and disrupting the habitats of aquatic species.
Furthermore, the long lifespan of almond trees means that land used for almond orchards is tied up for a longer period without any rotation or opportunity for alternative land use. This limits the potential for promoting biodiversity and creating more sustainable agricultural systems.
While almonds are a popular and profitable crop, the environmental impacts of their cultivation, including excessive water usage and lack of crop rotation, make them less sustainable compared to oats.
Drawbacks: Pesticides and Fertilizers and Greenhouse Gas Emissions
While almond farming produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to oat farming, transportation of almonds over long distances contributes to post-production emissions, which are not fully measured in the carbon footprint calculations.
Almond farming relies heavily on fertilizers and pesticides, which can negatively impact local ecosystems and wildlife. With almond trees being susceptible to disease and pests, the use of toxic chemicals remains a significant concern. Additionally, the high demand for almonds has led to an increase in monocropping, where vast areas of land are dedicated solely to almond production. This lack of diversity in agriculture can have detrimental effects on soil health and biodiversity.
Furthermore, almond farming requires honeybees for pollination, and the industry’s dependence on honeybee colonies can put stress on already struggling bee populations. The large-scale transportation of honeybee colonies across the country can also contribute to the spread of diseases and pests among bee populations.
Overall, while almonds may have some nutritional benefits and are a popular choice among consumers, their production and cultivation practices have significant environmental impacts. It is important to consider these factors when making choices about food consumption and to explore more sustainable alternatives.
The Clear Environmental Winner
Despite each of these plant-based milks showing competitiveness in certain aspects like land use and embodied carbon, the environmental flaws of almond milk outweigh its grain-based counterpart. While almond farming produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions than oat farming, the transportation of almonds over long distances contributes to post-production emissions. Oat milk’s low water footprint, wider geographic distribution, and lesser reliance on harsh chemicals make it a more sustainable choice. In summary, almonds require a large amount of water for cultivation, which puts a strain on local water sources in California and harms the environment. Combining all of these factors, oat milk is the best for the environment and is the best plant milk option available from that aspect.
Which is the healthier option?
When comparing oat and almond milk, opinions may vary as to which is healthier. Oat milk is often praised for its high fiber content, making it a great option for those looking to maintain a healthy digestive system. It also tends to have more protein and fewer calories than almond milk. However, almond milk is known for its high vitamin E content, which is beneficial for skin health and acts as an antioxidant. Almond milk also contains healthy fats, which can be beneficial for heart health. Additionally, almond milk is often fortified with calcium, making it a good source of this essential mineral.
Ultimately, the decision of which is healthier may depend on individual dietary needs and preferences. Both oat and almond milk can be part of a healthy diet when chosen as part of a balanced and varied intake of nutrients. It is essential to check the labels for added sugars and artificial ingredients when purchasing either oat milk or almond milk to ensure the healthiest option is selected.
Sustainable Nondairy Milk Consumption
To become a conscious consumer of nondairy milk, opt for Certified Organic products and ethically sourced ingredients. Whenever possible, support local producers or venture into package-free options by making your plant-based milk at home.
In the ongoing quest for a greener and more eco-friendly lifestyle, choosing oat milk over almond milk can be a small yet impactful step towards a healthier planet. That said, both oat and almond milk are clear winners when compared to cow milk. By making informed choices, we can collectively work towards a more environmentally friendly future. So, raise your glass of oat milk and toast to a more sustainable world!