The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is less concerned with plant-based alternatives branded as “milk” than it is that consumers understand the nutritional differences between those alternatives and cow’s milk.
That was the FDA’s message on Wednesday when it released draft guidance on milk substitutes produced from substances including grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
The bottom line is that plant-based milk products can use the word “milk” on their labels, but the FDA recommends—but does not mandate—that the products should include nutritional information about how they differ from dairy milk.
People who choose plant-based milk because they are counting calories should check the nutrition label because some alternatives may actually be higher in calories than nonfat and low-fat milk, or may be much lower in protein than milk, according to the FDA.
“The nutrients you get from plant-based milk alternatives can depend on which plant source is used, the processing methods and added ingredients, so check the label carefully,” Susan Mayne, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said in a statement issued Wednesday.
“Has the product been fortified with nutrients such as calcium? How much added sugar is in the product? What is the protein content?”
Among the “special considerations” per the FDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans are that infants should not consume milk or plant-based milk alternatives before the age of 12 months to replace human milk or infant formula.
There is a 60-day comment period about the draft guidance before the FDA decides whether to make it official.
“It is incumbent on FDA to get this policy right,” the International Dairy Foods Association said in a statement Wednesday.