Tag Archives: DHA

Spoilage and labeling errors with some omega-3 and -6 supplements

A new report on the quality of omega-3 and -6 fatty acid supplements made from seed oils was recently released by ConsumerLab.com. Only 11 of 17 products selected for testing met quality criteria for freshness and labeling. Continue reading

Fish oil supplements do not boost babies’ cognitive development or prevent postpartum depression

The New York Times reports, “Many women take fish oil supplements during pregnancy, encouraged by obstetricians, marketing campaigns, or the popular view that a key fish oil ingredient — docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA — is beneficial to a baby’s cognitive development.” However, a study published “in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that the DHA supplements taken by pregnant women show no clear cognitive benefit to their babies.” What’s more, researchers “found no evidence that DHA can reduce postpartum depression, except perhaps for women already at high risk for it.”

“In the new study, 2,399 women at the midpoint of their pregnancies were divided into two groups,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “One took a daily capsule of 800 mg of DHA derived from fish oil until giving birth; the other took an identical capsule filled with vegetable oil.”

Then, “six weeks and six months after each woman delivered her baby, researchers had her complete a psychological inventory to check for symptoms of depression.” Next, when the babies were about 18 months old, investigators subjected them to comprehensive batteries of tests to measure their cognitive ability.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the study authors found no evidence that the fish oil supplements prevented new mothers from postpartum depression or enhanced cognitive development in their babies. However, the study indicated that 800 mg of fish oil daily appeared to decrease the chances of developing postpartum depression by about four percent in women who already had a history of clinical depression. This was not considered a statistically significant difference, however.

According to a report in Bloomberg News, an editorial accompanying the study “said pregnant women shouldn’t give up eating low-mercury fish or taking recommended doses of fish oil, as the mineral does help prevent preterm labor and may have benefits not shown in the study.”

“The study did find that significantly fewer infants from the DHA group spent time in the neonatal intensive care unit, compared to infants in the control group — something that researchers attributed to fewer preterm births in the DHA group,” HealthDay reported. “DHA supplementation was associated with a ‘small to modest increase in the duration of gestation,’ they reported.”

WebMD reported that, despite the study’s conclusions, the authors “concede that further work is needed to determine the benefits of DHA for women with a history of depression or those at risk of delivering prematurely,” a concession echoed by the authors of the accompanying editorial.

ConsumerLab.com Finds Quality Problems with Nearly 30% of Fish Oil Supplements Reviewed; “Fishy” Claims Identified

Fish, krill, and algal oil supplements now account for approximately $1 billion in sales in the U.S. To help consumers choose among products, ConsumerLab.com selected 24 of the best-selling oil supplements and tested them for EPA and DHA, contamination, freshness, and, if applicable, proper release by enteric coatings. Amazingly, nearly 30% of the fish oil supplements that they selected for testing failed to meet minimum quality standards.

As discussed in the news release below, ConsumerLab found PCBs in all fish oil supplements (including krill and algal oil supplements) but typically at extremely low levels (addressing questions raised by the California lawsuit in March that I discussed here).

ConsumerLab also we found that price is not an indicator of quality with fish oil and that a person need not pay more than about 6 cents a day to get a good product (as I discuss in another blog, here); they also point out that the term “pharmaceutical grade” on products is meaningless; and they note out that actual amount of omega-3’s will range from less than 20% to over 80% of the “fish oil” shown on the front label, so you need to read the Supplement Facts carefully.

Here are more details from the ConsumerLab press release:

Softgels and Liquids for Adults, Children and Pets Tested, Including Krill Oil and Algal Oil Supplements

White Plains, New York – Tests of fish, algal and krill oil supplements revealed quality problems with 7 out of 24 products selected by independent testing organization ConsumerLab.com.

Three products contained less of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and/or DHA than claimed, spoilage was detected in one of these products as well as in two others (including a children’s supplement), an enteric-coated product released its ingredients too early, and a supplement for pets exceeded the contamination limit for PCBs.

Seventeen other products passed testing as did 15 products similarly tested through ConsumerLab.com’s voluntary certification program. ConsumerLab.com’s report is now available online to its members.

ConsumerLab.com reported these additional, notable findings:

  • Labels on some products included terms such as “pharmaceutical grade” and “tested in FDA approved laboratories,” which are meaningless as there is no  basis for either claim.
  • A krill oil supplement that failed for both spoilage and low omega-3 levels claimed to be quality assured under GMPs (good manufacturing practices).
  • Another “krill oil” supplement contained more fish oil than krill oil.
  • Most products met ConsumerLab.com’s strict contamination limit for dioxin-like PCBs of 3 picograms per gram (3 parts per trillion). However, one product (a pet supplement) slightly exceeded this limit with 3.14 picograms per gram. However, this exposure is still very small compared to that from fish meat — a small serving (3 ounces) of fatty fish such as salmon may easily provide 170 picograms of dl-PCBs as well as a significant amount of mercury. Trace amounts of dl-PCBs were found in all supplements, despite claims on some of being free of contaminants. There was no detectable mercury in any of the supplements.
  • The cost to obtain 100 mg of EPA and/or DHA from fish oil ranged from about 1 cent to 15 cents among fish oil supplements, and was about 30 cents from krill or algae oils. A fairly standard daily dose of 500 mg of EPA + DHA from a quality-approved product could be had for as little as 6 cents.  Higher prices were not associated with higher quality.
  • Concentrations of EPA and DHA ranged from less than 20% to over 80% of the marine oil content listed on front labels — which is why consumers should specifically look for the amounts of EPA and DHA which typically appear on side labels.

“Supplements providing EPA and/or DHA are a great alternative to fish as a source of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, as they typically have far fewer contaminants, cost less, and are more convenient to obtain. But products vary in quality, strength, odor-reduction, and price, so you need to choose carefully,” said Tod Cooperman, M.D., ConsumerLab.com’s president.

Consumption of EPA and DHA appears to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and may be helpful in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, other inflammatory diseases, and psychiatric illness. EPA and DHA may also reduce the risk of certain cancers and macular degeneration. Fish oil supplements are given to pets to help maintain their coats and skin.

U.S. sales of fish oil supplements in 2009 were $976 million, up 20% from the prior year, according to Nutrition Business Journal. A recent survey by ConsumerLab.com showed that fish oil had become the most commonly used supplement among people who regularly use supplements, exceeding, for the first time, the use of multivitamins. Seventy four percent of respondents reported using a fish oil supplement.

The new report includes test results, quality ratings, comparisons and reviews of products from the following brands: Advocare, CardioStat (Amerifit), Carlson, CVS, Dr. Sears, Finest Natural (Walgreen), Garden of Life, Kirkland (Costco), Life Extension, Liquid Solutions, Master Omega, Natrol, Natural Factors, Nature Made, New Chapter, Nordic Naturals, NOW, NSI (Vitacost), Olympian Labs, OmegaBrite, Origin (Target), PregnancyPlus, Puritan’s Pride, Quest Longevity (Canadian), Res-Q, Solgar, Source Naturals, Spring Valley (Walmart), Swanson, Trader Joe’s, The Simpsons, Vital Nutrients, VitalOils (VitalRemedyMD), Vitamin Shoppe, Vitamin World, Weil, Wellements, and 1-800-PetMeds. The report also includes information about dosing, side-effects, cautions, reduced-odor products, and proper storage of fish oil.

In addition to the products reviewed, two krill oil ingredients by Enzymotec USA have been tested and approved for quality through ConsumerLab.com’s Raw Materials Testing Program.

ConsumerLab.com is a leading provider of consumer information and independent evaluations of products that affect health and nutrition. The company is privately held and based in Westchester, New York. It has no ownership from, or interest in, companies that manufacture, distribute, or sell consumer products.

Omega-Enhanced Margarines a Heart-Saver? Or Not?

They taste like butter and offer a boost of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids, but these omega-enhanced margarines may NOT actually help your heart, according to new research from the Netherlands. Now, before you read the details, this study examined only older patients (age 60 – 80) living in the Netherlands and thus may not be applicable to the general United States population or to younger people as our diets, lifestyles, and risk factors differ. That said, this new study of almost 5,000 patients who had previously had a heart attack, eating a daily serving of omega-3 charged margarine had NO effect on the likelihood of a second heart attack. In other words, it didn’t help or hurt. So, what should you do? Here are the details from ABC News:

Margarines containing different types of omega-3 fatty acids were tested, one with EPA-DHA, one with ALA and another with both, were tested against a placebo, omega-free margarine.

Patients ranged from age 60 to 80 and were already on medicine to control their blood pressure and cholesterol. After more than three years on this margarine meal-plan, researchers saw no association between eating omega-supplemented margarine and a reduced risk of second cardiovascular event such as heart attack or stroke.

Previous research shows that giving an EPA-DHA supplement to patients with cardiovascular disease reduces their chance of dying from the disease by as much as 20 percent, authors note in the study, but supplementing with margarine didn’t seem to cut it.

This doesn’t mean that those at cardiovascular risk should give up on getting extra Omega-3 fatty acids or pass on margarine, experts say. It’s just about getting the right amount of good fats from the right places.

Omega Enhancement – Myths Busted

Peanut butter, margarine, cheese, baby food, even eggs – you name it and manufacturers are pumping omega-3 supplements into it. But is eating these omega enhanced items actually healthy for your heart?

This study would suggest no, but experts say that it’s not where you get your EPA-DHA omega 3’s, it’s how much you get and how it fits into your diet.

One of the reasons that the Netherlands study may not have seen a benefit was that the dose of omega-3 fatty acid was too low. Researchers were shooting for a daily intake of 400 mg of EPA-DHA and 2 g of ALA, but past research suggests that a therapeutic dose is closer to 850 mg of combined EPA-DHA per day.

Don’t Pass on Omega-3s

“I recommend that all of my cardiac patients [with] significant coronary artery disease&take EPA/DHA at a dose of 800-1000 per day. To get this dose, most require a supplement, either one, two or three capsules of an over the counter supplement depending on the concentration,” says Dr. Carl Lavie, medical director of Cardiac Rehabilitation and Prevention at John Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute.

Similarly, Dr. Dean Ornish, founder and president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute at University of California, San Francisco, recommends a fish oil supplement that contains one gram of combined EPA-DHA per day.

On the other hand, the dose given by the study’s EPA-DHA margarine was roughly similar to that provided by two servings of fish a week, the current recommended amount for heart health, so the dose received by subjects was not insignificant, says Alice Lichtenstein, director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at Tufts University.

Another potential reason that the margarine seemed to have no effect is that the patients had been heart attack-free for a couple to several years, which means they were already at relatively low risk of another heart attack, says Lavie. Given the lower risk, it might be hard to gauge the effects.

What’s more, these results can only speak to the effects of a modest supplementation of omega-3s for patients who, like the subjects, have had a previous heart attack and are now being rigorously treated for heart disease, experts point out.

“These results don’t say anything about what omega-3 fatty acids could do for prevention [of a heart attack] or for someone whose heart disease is not as well managed,” says Lichtenstein.

Fish Still Best Bet and Margarine Over Butter

Research on the heart-protective benefits of omega-3 supplements remains inconsistent, though some studies show benefit and these supplements are often suggested to patients with heart disease.

Research on the consumption of fish on the other hand, has shown a strong connection between a diet rich in fish and a decreased risk of heart disease and cardiovascular complications such as heart attack or stroke, experts say.

“Every time we try to isolate a nutrient and supplement it we get disappointed,” says Lichtenstein, “but we consistently see results with those who eat fish on a regular basis.”

One shouldn’t “make a conclusion that fish aren’t important. In general, those who consume fish versus [those who don’t] seem to have less coronary heart disease,” agrees Dr. Robert Eckel, professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

That said, if eating fish a few times a week is hard for you to do, supplements are still advised, Lavie adds, because “very few people eat enough fish.”

Similarly, when choosing something to spread on your bread, margarine is still a better choice than butter, doctors say, as long as it is low in saturated fat and trans fatty acids. Though Ornish says if you can trade the margarine for olive or canola oil, even better.

Soybean and canola oil contain ALA and have lower saturated fats than other oils, even olive oil, notes Lichtenstein, so these are a good fat to have in moderation.

Is Krill Oil Better Than Fish Oil?

Krill oil is now being promoted as a better alternative to fish oil supplements. Krill are tiny shrimp-like crustaceans.

Promoters say that krill oil provides similar cardiac benefits as fish oil, but with fewer capsules and no fishy taste.

However, krill oil supplements contain less of the omega-3s EPA and DHA than fish oil supplements. Nevertheless, manufacturers claim krill oil is better absorbed because the omega-3s are in a phospholipid form.

According to the experts at the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, “Preliminary evidence shows that a specific krill oil product (Neptune Krill Oil NKO, Neptune Technologies & Bioresources, Inc) can lower cholesterol and triglycerides.”

“But,” they add, “overall there’s much better evidence that fish oil can lower triglycerides and cardiovascular risk.”

Furthermore, krill oil usually costs more than fish oil.

So, the NMCD recommends to prescribers, “For now, advise patients to stick with fish oil. Recommend taking it with food or trying an enteric-coated product if fishy taste is a problem. Suggest krill oil only for healthy people who want to add these omega-3s to their diet but can’t tolerate fish oil.”

Should Kids take Fish Oil Supplements?

All the talk about the benefits of omega-3s has parents asking whether CHILDREN should take fish oil supplements. Omega-3s are important for neurodevelopment … and they’re now showing up in many prenatal vitamins, infant formulas, and foods. Fish oil supplements for kids are often promoted as improving visual acuity, brain function, or intelligence.

But, according to the experts at the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, “there’s no proof that omega-3 supplements make kids ‘smarter’…or have any cognitive benefit in most kids.”

In fact, according to the NMCD, “… many of these claims will be removed … due to pressure from the feds.”

The NCMD recommends this to physicians and healthcare professionals who care for kids:

  • Tell parents that most kids don’t need fish oil supplements.
  • Instead, suggest that kids eat about 4 oz/week of fatty fish … such as canned light tuna, salmon burgers, etc. This provides about 250 mg/day of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) plus docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
  • Supplements may be worth a try for kids who don’t get enough omega-3s from diet … especially those with behavioral or psychiatric disorders as preliminary evidence suggests fish oil MIGHT benefit kids with ADHD symptoms … autism … depression … or those at high risk for psychosis.
  • Reassure parents that most fish oil supplements don’t contain mercury or harmful levels of PCBs. To be safe, suggest a “USP Verified” or “ConsumerLab” product.
  • Tell parents NOT to use cod liver oil, as it has too much vitamin A.
  • Tell parents NOT to use flaxseed, as it doesn’t contain the same omega-3s as fish oil.

If You Are Going to take Fish Oil — here’s how to take the right amount

The amount of fish oil one has to take each day depends upon why one is taking it. Here are some diseases and the amount of the effective daily doses of total fish oil or EPA and DHA (the most active components of fish oil) needed for each disorder (according to the experts at the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database): Continue reading

What are the facts about cow’s, goat’s, soy, almond, rice, and hemp milk?

Poring over facts about milk: cow’s, goat’s, soy, almond, rice and hemp
Full-fat, low-fat or skim? Used to be, there weren’t many choices to make over what to pour on your cereal. But the number of alternatives to cow’s milk — soy, goat’s, hemp milk, more — has steadily grown.
Each has its fans: those who swear by goat’s milk’s creamy texture or who love almond milk’s subtle, nutty flavor. But when it comes to nutrition, there’s no clear winner.
Cow’s milk is a good source of protein but can be high in saturated fats. Hemp milk offers little protein but is rich in certain essential fatty acids. For some, an allergy is the main concern when choosing milk. For others, digestibility drives the decision. “There are dozens of differences in all of these milks,” says Alexandra Kazaks, professor of nutrition at Bastyr University in Kenmore, Wash.
Here’s a look at the nutritional pros and cons of standards and newcomers in the dairy case. See Page E3
Cow’s milk
Whole cow’s milk packs 150 calories per cup, and about half of those calories come from fat. (See the related chart for a nutritional breakdown of all these different milks.) The 8 grams of fat in a cup of whole milk includes 5 grams of saturated fat, which can raise blood cholesterol. The American Heart Assn. recommends limiting saturated fat intake to 7% or less of daily calories: An adult consuming 1,800 calories per day would get more than one-third of that in an 8-ounce glass of whole milk.
Skim and reduced-fat milks provide the same amount of protein without the high levels of saturated fats or the cholesterol whole milk also contains. They also retain all of the calcium found in whole milk — up to 300 milligrams, about one-third of the recommended daily intake. According to the Institute of Medicine, adults require between 1,000 and 1,300 milligrams of calcium a day for optimum bone strength. And cow’s milk has long been promoted by nutritionists and dietitians as a good source of this important mineral, as well as the vitamin D needed to absorb the mineral.
But “there’s a fair amount of controversy in that whole area,” says Larry Kushi, associate director for epidemiology in the division of research at Kaiser Permanente Northern California in Oakland. The issue is just how important calcium — and milk as a source of calcium — truly is for bone health.
Scientists increasingly began to question the relationship after several studies, including two unusually large ones, failed to find evidence linking increased milk consumption to a decreased risk of fractures, a sign of bone health.
A 12-year study of more than 77,000 women, conducted by Harvard researchers and published in 1997, found that women who drank two glasses of milk a day had roughly the same risk of hip or forearm fractures as women who drank one glass or less per week. A 2003 investigation of the same population found that although vitamin D intake reduced the risk of hip fractures in post-menopausal women, high calcium and milk intake did not.
The science on the relationship between cow’s milk and cancer is also somewhat murky, and researchers are working to clarify this. Population studies have produced good evidence that increased dairy consumption, including that of milk, may decrease the risk of colorectal cancer. But studies also suggest that the risk of prostate cancer may increase with increasing milk consumption.
The evidence for female cancers — including breast, ovarian and endometrial cancers — is more mixed. Studies conducted several decades ago were less likely to demonstrate a link between dairy consumption and female cancers than more recent ones, and some nutrition experts think this difference may be linked to industrial practices that have increased the levels of the hormone estrogen in cow’s milk.
Then there’s the issue of milk allergy, an immune-system reaction to any of the several types of casein, whey or other proteins in milk. About 2.5% of children develop cow’s milk allergies in their first year, according to the National Institutes of Health, and 80% outgrow it in adulthood.
Other individuals suffer from lactose intolerance, the inability to digest the dominant sugar found in milk. The intolerance (which causes gas, bloating and diarrhea) stems from a lack of lactase, the enzyme required to break down the milk sugar lactose. It is far more common than milk allergy. “Most of the world’s population can’t digest milk,” says Dr. Scott Sicherer, professor of pediatrics at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, and co-author of the 2009 book “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Dairy-Free Eating.” “Our bodies are not made to drink this stuff.”
Goat’s milk
The popularity in the U.S. of cow’s milk makes us a bit of an anomaly: Globally, goat’s milk is a far more popular drink.
But Americans may be getting a taste for it. Tracy Darrimon, director of marketing for Turlock, Calif.-based Meyenberg Goat Milk Products, the top producers of commercially available goat milk in the U.S., says that over the last four years the company has increased production more than 30% to keep up with demand.
Consumers choose goat’s milk because they perceive it as less allergenic, easier to digest and more healthful all round than cow’s milk. Some of those perceptions may be wrong. Since goat’s milk, like cow’s milk, is derived from mammals, “It’s much more likely to have similar effects on long-term health,” Kaiser’s Kushi says.
Consumers looking to avoid saturated fat and cholesterol, for instance, may do well to eschew whole goat’s milk: It has more saturated fat than cow’s milk and similar levels of cholesterol and is higher in calories and total fat. And goat’s milk, like cow’s milk, contains lactose. Though the levels can be slightly lower than those in cow’s milk, “It’s not enough to really make a difference if someone has lactose intolerance,” Bastyr’s Kazaks says.
In Europe, where goat’s milk consumption is far more common than in the U.S., a few studies have suggested that goat’s milk is less likely to cause allergies than cow’s milk. But Ohio allergist Dr. Julie McNairn, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, doubts that this is true. She says the proteins triggering allergy to cow’s milk are very similar to those found in goat’s milk.
More than 90% of the time, people allergic to cow’s milk are allergic to goat’s milk, Sicherer adds: “If someone’s allergic to cow’s milk, I tell them to stay away from mammalian milks.”
Soy milk
Because soy milk is made from a plant, it contains no cholesterol and negligible amounts of saturated fat: just half a gram per cup.
Compared with whole cow’s or goat’s milk, it is lower in calories too, but a glass still provides the same levels of key nutrients present in those milks, including calcium, protein, vitamin A, vitamin D and potassium. That’s partly because soybeans contain calcium, protein and potassium. But soy milk is also fortified to be nutritionally comparable to cow’s milk.
Soy milk’s lack of cholesterol and low levels of saturated and total fat have made it a popular choice for people looking to improve their heart health, says Stacey Krawczyk, a research dietitian with the National Soybean Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. For the last 10 years, soy foods have been allowed to bear the FDA-approved claim that a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet containing 25 grams of soy protein per day may reduce the risk of heart disease.
Soy milk may have another benefit: In recent decades, several large population studies have suggested consuming soy may be linked to a lower risk of cancer, including prostate, colorectal and breast cancer.
But the relationship between soy milk consumption and cancer remains unclear — largely because most studies have focused on populations, such as those in Asia, that consume whole soy products, such as tofu, tempeh and edamame, as a large part of their diet. Studies on the general U.S. and European populations have not been able to replicate the findings, in part because soy consumption levels here are much lower, Kushi says.
This protective effect against cancer, if there is one, is thought to be at least partly due to estrogen-like compounds in soy that may compete with human estrogen in the body, hindering it from prompting the cell proliferation that can trigger cancer. But the link between soy consumption and cancer may invert in women after menopause, when natural estrogen levels plummet. “The evidence is still unclear,” Kushi says.
Soy can be a good dairy alternative for most people with allergies to cow’s milk. Soy allergies affect 0.4% of children — more common than most food allergies but far less common than ones to milk. Soy milk allergy in children is often outgrown. And though people allergic to cow’s milk are often likely to have another food allergy, the differences in the two milks’ proteins means an allergy to one doesn’t automatically translate into an allergy to the other, McNairn says.
Soy milk also lacks lactose, so it’s easier for people with lactose intolerance to digest it.
A downside? Because soybeans have an inherently bitter taste, soy milk is often heavily processed — and sweetened — to mask that flavor, says Kantha Shelke, a food chemist with the Chicago-based food-science think tank Corvus Blue. Sweeteners are often high on the list of ingredients in soy milks, adding sugar and calories that consumers might not be aware of. Still, with about 5 grams of sugar per cup, even the more sugary soy milks contain fewer sugars than the 12 grams per cup in cow’s milk. (Soy milks labeled “unsweetened” contain about 1 gram.)
Soy milk presents its own digestibility challenges, Kazaks says. The milk contains high levels of oligosaccharides, carbohydrates that are hard for the body to break down. “It can really cause a lot of gas in some people,” she says.
Almond milk
“With almond milk, it’s more about what you don’t get” than what you do, says Sam Cunningham, an independent food scientist and consultant specializing in nuts, who helped develop almond milk for Sacramento-based Blue Diamond Growers as an employee of the almond processor in the 1990s.
Like soy milk, almond milk contains zero cholesterol. It’s free of saturated fats, so it’s a healthful option for people with, or at risk for, heart disease. It doesn’t contain lactose, so it’s an option for people with lactose intolerance. And it’s even lower in calories and total fat than soy milk: a glass contains just 60 calories and 2.5 grams of fat to soy milk’s 100 calories and 4 fat grams.
But although almonds, among nuts, are a good source of calcium and protein, almond milk’s calcium and protein levels don’t compare to the levels in cow’s, goat’s or soy milks. A glass of almond milk provides just 1 gram of protein. Some brands provide up to 20% of the daily recommended calcium intake (about 10% less than the other milks), but other brands provide none.
Almonds are also a good source of iron, riboflavin, vitamin E and some essential fatty acids. A cup of the ground-up nuts contains more than 11 grams of omega-6 fats (but very few omega-3s).
In recent years, several studies have hinted at a link between nut consumption and lower blood cholesterol and a reduced risk of heart disease. Since 2003, the Food and Drug Administration has allowed almonds (and other nuts) to bear the claim that eating 1.5 ounces of nuts daily, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce risk of heart disease.
Still, nuts are one thing — almond milk is another. The fraction of almond milk that’s actually comprised of finely blended almonds varies between products and can be minimal, Kazaks says. In many commercially available almond milks, almonds are the second or third ingredient, after water and sweeteners. (The same is true for many soy milks as well.) So despite the high vitamin E and omega-6 content of almonds, a glass of almond milk may contain none of the vitamin and just 300 to 600 milligrams of the omega-6s.
Almond milk is a fine alternative for people allergic to cow’s and soy milks, Jaffe’s Sicherer says, but almonds pose their own allergenicity hazards. Allergies to tree nuts, including almonds, are among the top allergies in the population, affecting 0.2% of children. And although cow’s and soy milk allergies are often outgrown, nut allergies are more likely to persist.
Rice milk
Like almond milk, rice milk’s main advantages are what it doesn’t contain. It is free of cholesterol and saturated fat. It doesn’t contain lactose. Allergies to rice are rare.
In fact, rice milk manufacturers commonly promote their product as safe for people with any of a number of allergies or intolerances — including cow’s milk, soy and nut allergies, as well as lactose and gluten intolerance. (Gluten, found in wheat and other cereal grains, is not present in any of the milks mentioned here.)
Rice milk, like soy and almond milk, is formulated to contain levels of calcium, vitamin A and vitamin D similar to (albeit lower than) those in cow’s milk. But it is not a good source of protein, with just 0.67 grams per serving, and often contains more calories than almond or soy milk: about 113 calories per cup. Its vitamin E levels exceed that of cow’s, goat’s and soy milk but don’t compare with that of some almond milks.
One more thing rice milk doesn’t have: flavor in need of masking with sweeteners. “It’s a very mild-flavored product,” Corvus Blue’s Shelke says.
Hemp milk
Among plant-based milks, hemp milk is unique, and not just because the cannabis plant it’s made from poses legal challenges for farmers.
A glass of hemp milk contains the same number of calories as soy milk, one-third to one-half of the protein, but 50% more fat: 5 to 6 grams. However, most of the fats in hemp milk are omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, key for nervous system function and healthy skin and hair. Certain omega-3 and omega-6 fats also appear to reduce inflammation and lower blood lipid levels.
Plant oils typically have an excess of omega-6 fats relative to omega-3s — and the hemp seed is no exception. A cup of hemp milk (which is made from the “nut” of the hemp seed but can also contain some of the hull) often provides about 1 gram of omega-3s and 3 to 4 grams of omega-6s. Still, that level of omega-3s is high for plants, making hemp milk a useful source of them — especially given that American diets typically provide too few omega-3 fats and too many omega-6s.
In fact, some nutrition experts recommend a dietary ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s of between 1:1 and 1:3, a ratio that occurs naturally in hemp milk.
But the story is more complicated than that. It is unclear whether the predominant omega-3 fat in hemp, alpha linolenic acid (ALA), has the same heart-health benefits of those found abundantly in fish oils (known as EPA and DHA for short), says William Harris, director of the Cardiovascular Health Research Center at the University of South Dakota.
Like soy milk, hemp milk is low in saturated fat and cholesterol-free. It’s also free of lactose, and allergies to hemp are rare. Christina Volgyesi, vice president of marketing for Portland, Ore.-based Living Harvest Foods, which makes hemp milk, says the milk is made from different cannabis varieties than those used to produce marijuana, and contains none of the mind-altering active ingredient THC.
Hemp milk contains many of the nutrients found in cow’s milk (including calcium, vitamin A and vitamin D) since it’s fortified. In fact, some brands provide 40% to 50% of the daily recommended allowance of calcium, as compared with the 30% found in cow’s milk.
Nutritionally, hemp seeds are similar to flax seeds, which have become increasingly popular sources of essential fatty acids in recent years. But not all seeds rich in the fats lend themselves to a palatable milk alternative.
“Flax milk would probably be dark brown,” Shelke says. “We are probably not prepared to drink something dark brown in color.”
Unless, of course, it’s chocolate milk — be it of cow’s, goat’s, soy, almond, rice or even hemp.

I will have patients who, from time to time, ask about the various controversies that are swirling around concerning the differing claims of milk producers. What are the facts, and the myths, about milk? How do you decide between cow’s, goat’s, soy, almond, rice, or hemp milk? What are the pros? What are the cons? Continue reading

The Truth About Infant Formula

Are you as confused about all the advertisements about infant formula as most of my patients? If so, here’s some evidence-based, trustworthy information that will help keep you from getting ripped off by unfounded formula claims and help you provide your child with great nutrition, while saving money.

More Information: Continue reading

Omega-3 Fatty Acids Linked to Lower Macular Degeneration Risk


According to MedPage, a new meta-analysis shows that consuming high levels of omega-3 fatty acids (by eating fish twice a week) was associated with a 38% lowered risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – a  disease that causes severe vision loss in the elderly. Continue reading