The plant-based milk you buy may soon have a custom label.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday released a draft guideline on how companies should identify plant-based products marketed and sold as alternatives to dairy milks, such as almond, oat or soy milk.
Any plant-based dairy product with the word “milk” in its name must include a statement explaining how the product compares to dairy milk, according to the draft guideline.
“Food labels are an important way to support consumer behavior, so we encourage the use of the voluntary nutrition statements to better help customers make informed decisions,” said Susan Mayne, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, in a statement. rack.
In the future, alt milk’s label could say “contains less vitamin D and calcium than milk” or “contains less protein than milk.”
But the guidance “assumes that cow’s milk is the superior standard. Couldn’t breast milk be a better standard?” asked nutrition researcher Dr. Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
“The requirement for the same protein content as in cow’s milk is questionable because protein intake is not recognized as a critical issue for children,” he added. “If anything, the amount in breast milk would be a reasonable standard.”
Humans are the only mammals that drink milk from another animal, noted dr. David Katz, a specialist in preventive and lifestyle medicine and nutrition.
“Those of us in favor of plant-based eating could well argue that preferred plant-based milks could be the standard, and beef milk should point out how it differs from that milk,” he said.
“Given that … I think the guidelines proposed by the FDA are excellent,” Katz said in an email. “It makes sense that if a product is designed and labeled to ‘replace something,’ it is directly compared to that ‘something,’” he said.
Move over soy, rice and almond milk. Grocery store shelves now stock “cashew, coconut, flax seed, hazelnut, hemp seed, macadamia nut, oat, pea, peanut, pecan, quinoa, and walnut beverages,” according to the FDA.
Consumers may not understand that these products are made from liquids extracted from nuts, legumes, seeds or grains and have a different composition than traditional dairy milks.
“It is especially important to get enough nutrients in milk and fortified soy drinks to help children grow and develop, and parents and caregivers should be aware that many plant-based alternatives do not contain the same nutrients as milk,” Mayne said.
According to Willett, some plant-based milks are probably superior to cow’s milk. Soy milk contains many more healthy essential fatty acids than cow’s milk, he said, and there is some evidence that eating soy phytoestrogens during adolescence may reduce breast cancer risk.
“In addition, high consumption of cow’s milk during adolescence has been linked to a higher risk of fractures later in life, probably because drinking cow’s milk increases our blood levels of a hormone called ‘insulin-like growth factor,’” he added. .
Willett is the co-author of a 2020 review on the topic of milk and human health published in The New England Journal of Medicine. The review says that dairy milk failed to prevent fractures, which is often used as a reason to give milk to children and adults. Instead, the study found higher hip fracture rates in countries that consumed the highest amounts of milk and calcium.
The suggested requirements for similar levels of vitamins D and A are reasonable, Willett said, but it’s important to point out that milk contains high levels of those vitamins because they’re added.
Many plant milks are also fortified with vitamins, minerals, calcium and protein, but it can be difficult to know exactly, experts said.
However, the draft recommendations should provide consumers with clear labeling to give them the information they need to make informed nutritional and purchasing decisions about the products they buy for themselves and their families, said FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf in the statement.
The FDA is taking comments on the guidelines.
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