Plant-based milk can still be called ‘milk’, FDA says, but may have to compare to dairy


The plant milk you buy may soon have a revised label.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday released draft guidance on how companies should identify plant-based products that are marketed and sold as alternatives to cow’s milk, such as almond milk, d oats or soybeans.

Any plant-based dairy product with the word “milk” in its name should include a statement explaining how the product compares to cow’s milk, according to the draft guidelines.

“Food labels are an important way to help support consumer behavior, so we encourage the use of voluntary nutrition declarations to better help customers make informed decisions,” said Susan Mayne, director of the Center for Food. FDA Safety and Applied Nutrition, in a statement. statement.

In the future, the label of alternative milks could say “contains less vitamin D and calcium than milk” or “contains less protein than milk”.

But the guidelines “assume cow’s milk is the superior standard. Wouldn’t human 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, as protein intake has not been 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 another animal’s milk, noted preventive medicine and lifestyle and nutrition specialist Dr. David Katz.

“Those of us who favor plant-based diets might well argue that preferred plant milks might be the norm, and bovine milk should have to declare how it differs from these,” a- he declared.

“Given that…I think the guidelines proposed by the FDA are excellent,” Katz said in an email. “It makes sense if a product is designed and branded to ‘replace’ something, that it’s directly compared to that ‘something,'” he said.

Move on to soy, rice and almond milk. Grocery store shelves now stock “drinks made with cashew, coconut, flax, hazelnut, hemp, macadamia, oat, pea, peanut, pecan , quinoa and nuts,” the FDA said.

Consumers may not understand that these products are made from liquids extracted from nuts, legumes, seeds or grains, and have a different composition from traditional dairy milk.

“Getting enough nutrients from milk and fortified soy beverages is especially important 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.

In fact, some plant milks are likely to be superior to cow’s milk, according to Willett. Soy milk contains significantly more healthy essential fatty acids than cow’s milk, he said, and there is evidence that consuming soy phytoestrogens during adolescence may reduce the risk of breast cancer.

“Furthermore, high consumption of cow’s milk in adolescence has been associated with higher risk fractures later in life, likely because drinking cow’s milk increases our blood levels of a hormone called ‘factor. insulin-like growth,” he added.

Willett is the co-author of a 2020 review on milk and human health published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The review indicates that cow’s milk did not prevent fractures, which is often used as a reason for providing milk to children and adults. Instead, the study found higher rates of hip fractures in countries that consumed the highest amounts of milk and calcium.

The proposed 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 these vitamins because they are added.

Many plant milks are also fortified with vitamins, minerals, calcium and protein, but it can be hard to know exactly, experts say.

However, the draft recommendations “should lead to providing consumers with clear labeling to give them the information they need to make informed nutrition and purchasing decisions about the products they buy for themselves and their families,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf said in the statement. .

The FDA is taking comments on the guidelines.

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