Non-dairy milk, the next great oxy­moron

Fed­er­ally spon­sored agri­cul­ture risk man­age­ment can cope with unforeseen hard­ship, not ‘fake milk’

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Richard Berman Richard Berman is the pres­i­dent of Berman and Co., a pub­lic re­la­tions firm in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. Ed Feul­ner is founder of The Her­itage Foun­da­tion (her­itage.org).

Last week, the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives in­tro­duced its much-an­tic­i­pated 2018 farm bill — and not a mo­ment too soon. While the rest of the na­tion clawed its way to pre-re­ces­sion pro­duc­tiv­ity, the farm econ­omy has suf­fered a pro­longed five-year con­trac­tion. At this early junc­ture, the bill prom­ises to ease at least some of the bur­den on dairy farm­ers. Jim Mul­h­ern, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Na­tional Milk Pro­duc­ers Fed­er­a­tion, gave his sup­port for the leg­is­la­tion given its role im­prov­ing dairy in­sur­ance cov­er­age and ex­pand­ing tools for price risk man­age­ment. Sure, fed­er­ally spon­sored agri­cul­ture risk man­age­ment pro­grams can at­tempt to ac­count for the risk of unforeseen hard­ship, such as drought caus­ing a spike in feed prices, or an over­sup­ply of milk caus­ing prices to plunge be­low prof­itabil­ity. But what about those threats orig­i­nat­ing from within the agri­cul­tural com­mu­nity it­self?

At an es­ti­mated $16.3 bil­lion, the global mar­ket for non-dairy milk al­ter­na­tives is boom­ing. Ac­cord­ing to mar­ket re­search firm Min­tel, prod­ucts such as al­mond milk, soy milk and co­conut milks are on a five-year high, grow­ing more than 60 per­cent dur­ing the same time frame when most farm­ers of other com­modi­ties strug­gled to main­tain their in­come.

The suc­cess of milk al­ter­na­tives — let’s call them “fake milk,” given that these bev­er­ages mar­ket them­selves as “milks” — is un­sur­pris­ing given to­day’s health-con­scious con­sumer. Af­ter all, fake milks are mar­keted as hav­ing more cal­cium and vi­ta­mins than con­ven­tional milk, for be­ing lower in calo­ries, and free from sat­u­rated fats and choles­terol. But the health halo around fake milk doesn’t shine as bright as con­sumers may think.

Un­less a con­sumer ex­clu­sively pur­chases the unsweet­ened ver­sion of their pre­ferred fake milk, their cups are go­ing to con­tain a large dose of sugar. In or­der to com­pete with the fla­vor pro­file of milk, the plant-based al­ter­na­tives al­most have no choice. The U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion (CDC) warns that a healthy diet should source no more than 10 per­cent of daily calo­ries from added sug­ars.

For the stan­dard 2,000-calo­rie diet, that means con­sum­ing no more than 200 calo­ries from added sugar. Com­par­ing mar­ket leader Silk’s Vanilla Al­mond­milk to the unsweet­ened prod­uct, Silk adds roughly 13 grams of sugar per one cup serv­ing — that’s more than 60 per­cent of the bev­er­age’s to­tal calo­ries. It’s more than a ta­ble­spoon of pure sugar in ev­ery cup — roughly half of what you’d find in a sim­i­larly sized por­tion of Coca-Cola.

But the big dif­fer­ence there? No one is pour­ing Coke over their Chee­rios as a healthy al­ter­na­tive to milk.

One per­cent milk con­tains a sim­i­lar amount of lac­tose, the sugar found in milk. Ac­cord­ing to nu­tri­tion com­men­ta­tor and reg­is­tered di­eti­tian Dana An­gelo White, milk has a lot more to of­fer from a nu­tri­tional stand­point. Milk nat­u­rally pro­vides other im­por­tant nu­tri­ents like pro­tein, vi­ta­min D, cal­cium, vi­ta­min A and vi­ta­min B-12. The proteins take longer to di­gest, caus­ing a less dra­matic spike in blood sugar, and “make you feel fuller for longer, pro­vid­ing a greater sati­ety value.”

But what about fake milk’s fre­quent claim that it con­tains more cal­cium or vi­ta­mins than milk? Whole al­monds and soy­beans do pack a cal­cium punch, but their fake milk end­point doesn’t fare quite as well. Namely, be­cause prod­ucts like al­mond milk and soy milk con­tain far less al­monds and soy than con­sumers ex­pect.

Silk and Blue Di­a­mond al­mond milk brands have faced scru­tiny in re­cent years for sub­sti­tut­ing thick­en­ing agents such as gel­lan gum and lo­cust bean gum for real al­monds. For these prod­ucts, much like the fake meat also mas­querad­ing as healthy veg­gie burg­ers, their plant-based name­sake con­trib­utes lit­tle to the fi­nal prod­uct.

In re­al­ity, “al­mond milk” con­tains 2 per­cent or less ac­tual al­monds. The nu­tri­tional con­tent comes from for­ti­fi­ca­tion, or mix­ing vi­ta­mins and min­er­als into fake milk to up it’s ap­peal. Sci­en­tists also worry that in ad­di­tion to con­tribut­ing to weight gain more than un­for­ti­fied prod­ucts, for­ti­fied foods may rewire our nat­u­ral crav­ings so that we have a less­ened de­sire to eat nu­tri­tious food in the first place.

Yet in large part, le­gal scru­tiny goes un­no­ticed in most of the “nat­u­ral” move­ment. I would wa­ger that you’d likely find fake milk in re­frig­er­a­tors through­out the move­ment.

Far be it for any con­ser­va­tive to call nat­u­ral mar­ket com­pe­ti­tion a threat. But if mak­ers of fake milk can pro­duce a good that is safe and af­ford­able, the com­pe­ti­tion is good for ev­ery­one. Prices go down and peo­ple have greater choice in what they pour over their ce­real each morn­ing. But be­ing trans­par­ent is crit­i­cal for any bur­geon­ing in­dus­try, lest it too be­come sub­ject to the crit­i­cisms of mod­ern nu­tri­tional ac­tivists. It’s also im­por­tant that gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tors and the pub­lic at large know what’s in their “milk” so they can make in­formed choices about their food.

Silk and Blue Di­a­mond al­mond milk brands have faced scru­tiny in re­cent years for sub­sti­tut­ing thick­en­ing agents such as gel­lan gum and lo­cust bean gum for real al­monds.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY GREG GROESCH

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY HUNTER

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