Why is there vegetable oil in my non-dairy milk?
As we mentioned above, plant-based milks tend to have lower levels of saturated fats than dairy milk. But this doesn’t always mean that they’re fat-free – in fact, some non-dairy milks contain sunflower oil or rapeseed oil, which could mean they they’re not as healthy as we think. These oils add to their fat and calorie levels if we’re using them in smoothies and on cereals, or drinking them in significant volumes every day.
Oils are added as an emulsifier that helps to bind the water-soluble and fat-soluble parts of the milk together. If you remember from school science lessons, oil and water don’t mix – if we mix water with the healthy fats and oils from say almonds, to create almond milk (water is a main ingredient of any plant-based milk) then we need an emulsifier to help them mix together and stay mixed).
The problem is, these types of vegetable oils are examples of polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs, that are high in omega-6 – and so ubiquitous are they in our Western diet, we consume too much of them. High levels of omega-6 in the diet can lead to inflammation. Some level of inflammation is healthy – it’s part of our normal immune response. But if it’s allowed to build up, it can become chronic and lead to chronic inflammatory diseases such as heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Inflammation can be increased by eating a diet high in saturated fats and PUFAs, salt and sugar as well as being overweight or obese and having a stressful lifestyle.
Drinking plant-based milks with added vegetable oils may therefore also add to inflammation – but only if you’re drinking large volumes each day. There is no ‘cut-off’ limit but we would suggest looking for a non-dairy milk with no added vegetable oils or using one that does in small amounts.