VEGA News Item

More for the Dairy-free Range - 24/10/2006
Two full-page ads in one issue of the Guardian Weekend Magazine betoken vigor in innovation and competition in the alternative dairy milks and in a market bidding fair to challenge the "cowboy" trade effectively.
1. Two full-page ads in one issue of the Guardian Weekend Magazine (21 October 2006) betoken vigor in innovation and competition in the alternative dairy milks and in a market bidding fair to challenge the "cowboy" trade effectively.

2. So Good Essential claims to be "the only soya milk that is specially enriched with heart-healthy plant-based omega 3 (a very healthy 700mg per 250ml serving)." It is enriched in the usual nutrients and will become available for consideration by shoppers at the chiller cabinets of shops and stores. The ads don't mention prices.

3. Alpro recommend "a healthy decision" for their Soya Light, which is unsweetened. Abjuring artificial sweeteners, the manufacturer tells purchasers: "you can enjoy all the natural benefits of a product that contains no added sugar, that's low in saturated fat and reduced calorie." They also describe the provenance of the soya beans to allay objections over sources. We can expect further claims to arise as competition increases among the brands and the nature of their raw materials (eg whole beans or refined flours). Customers for these and many other products should pause before buying to ensure that the alternatives are nutritionally sound and that the health claims justify inclusion in the Portfolio of veggie eating plans in lifestyles that counter obesity and maintain and redress faults in the balance of fatty acids, in which the omega 6 to omega 3 ration should be adjusted to lower levels (which are unduly high in some people's version of veggie diets). We are pressing the Food Standards Agency to assert assessments of labeling and claims that make such statements clear to customers showing a healthy interest in the products. In the Portfolio of eating plans that "could reduce your cholesterol by up to 28% naturally without the need for statins."

Yesterday's Times 2 devoted two full pages (three if the cover is included) to the "superfoods" in the Portfolio of eating plans that "could reduce your cholesterol by up to 28% naturally without the need for statins."

4. The dairy industry has been trying fish extracts as additions to some of its products ("clever milks") and overreaching claims for them have attracted objections from the Advertising Standards Authority. Epidemiological studies are underway, concentrating on the behavior and learning and development of vision in schoolchildren. The taste of the fish extracts being so disgusting, the Tayside study in Scotland, for one, is being run with omega 3 vegetable oils. The dairy industry is also saddled with embarrassments over trans-fats, for the modern cow yields products of hydrogenation. Reforms of labeling will reveal this fact.

Omega 3 Advances

5. Additions of the omega 3 fatty acids number several included as essential fats and defined as vitamin F. They are especially associated with fats of marine origin, notably from fish, seals, walruses, and whales, who in turn accumulate these compounds from their consumption of algae, which are the primary biosynthesizers. Fish oils are notable food sources. Fish in the diet and extracts also provide vitamin D and iodine, which are other essential nutrients. While these factors have many functions, eg beneficially in cellular processes involved in cancer, they are especially prized for their place in the maintenance of a healthy cardiovascular system and development of the brain and prevention of degeneration. They are similar in some ways to the statins, drugs with diverse functions and available over the counter and even authoritatively recommended for routine dosing for the elderly: they could be regarded almost as vitamin supplements. Some vegetable oils, such as linseed (flax), walnuts, and hemp contain omega 3 components similar to those in fish extracts and, provided that they are kept carefully to prevent rancidity by oxidation (and the natural or augmented content of vitamin E serves this purpose), they are preferable to fish extracts, being less unpalatable.

6. Addition of omega 3 oils to the alternative dairy products seems a beneficial step, which we have been recommending to manufacturers, if only to reassure vegetarians spellbound by authoritative claims made for the consumption of fish and derivatives thereof, mainly in connexion with cardiovascular functions: the veggie portfolio of eating patterns aims likewise at a better balance of the omega 3 and omega 6 compounds, as well as the dietary content of other fats.

Unsustainable Sustenance from Fish

7. Fish oil is a source of some very long chain fatty acids, of which DHA and EPA are considered the most important, especially in fulfillment of the old axiom that "fish is good for the brain". There is doubt whether human beings are animals lacking the ability to synthesize these acids in their bodies from the shorter chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, so the Food Standards Agency and Department of Health have taken a precautionary view - in one respect - of recommending consumption of fatty fish or oils or appropriate supplements. However, this leaves veggies perplexed and overlooks the many environmental and ecological reservations that must be entertained; not to mention the hazards to "those in peril on the sea" - a dangerous industry comparing in risk with mining.

8. We have been most concerned over products sold for the babies and toddlers of veggie mothers unable or unwilling to breast feed their offspring up to the recommended duration (eg about 6 months), for whom there is no product available, even online, in countries outside North America. This is due to restrictions on the supply of algal sources from which fish and thence consumers of fish derive their intakes of the very long chain polyunsaturated fats (LCPUFAs) - if, indeed, these compounds are essential at any stage of human development. The human brain develops very rapidly at the later stages of gestation and in the first years - and even earlier when the significance of the mother's (and, possibly, father's) health and lifestyle is appreciated, as well as fetal origins of adult diseases. Therefore, the nutrition and health status of adolescent girls require special concern.

9. The search for unexceptionable dietary sources of the desired fatty acids has prompted vigorous research. Farmed fish involves practices objectionable to many more people than the veggie population. Attempts are being made to endow by GM terrestrial plants with the elements they have lost from the equipment of the "primitive" unicellular algae, which may themselves be cultivated as prolific sources. Botanists are resuming searches for overlooked plant sources of eligible oils with suitable properties; leads from the borage family have shown promise with the Echium genus, of which viper's bugloss (not the moth with the same name), Echium vulgare, is being submitted as a feasible contender as a source of oils with favorable properties as an ingredient in fats used in foods (it yields stearidonic acid, still a stage or two short of DHA and EPA).

10. Viper's bugloss is a colorful plant (or weed) with red stamens prominent against vivid blue flowers. It is found in dry, bare and waste places in Britain and Northern Europe (such as bomb sites). It is now a weed in parts of the Great Lakes area in North America. It provides desirable nectar for honeybees. (A bugloss is one of several usually hairy Old World plants in several genera having blue or violet flowers. The word buglosse in Middle English derives from Old French, Late Latin and Greek and Indo-European roots of bous meaning ox and glossa meaning tongue).

11. Alternative dairy products are likely products suitable for veggies and modified to carry any values that may be nutritionally attributed to fish while averting the manifold problems in the hunting and catching of marine wildlife, as well as in avoiding the challenges presented in farming fish, particularly to members of "caring" organizations such as the RSPCA and Soil Association. Further, the plant-milks have the edge over animal-derived products in adjustments already made and for some of which health claims may be uttered and justified. The switch in consumer purchasing of skimmed animal milks and derivatives - and EU initiatives at reducing intakes of animal fats further, with consequent adjustments in subsidies and voucher schemes (eg for schoolchildren and pregnant women), will unload more disdained dairy fat onto the market for snacks and "luxuries" in the "M and S butter everything up" mode. Plenty of precedents can be sought in the Finnish Karelia project launched in the 1970s to lessen the toll of heavy intakes of dairy fats.

New Challenges

12. Consumers must ready themselves for headlines as the media understand the challenges of nanotechnology and its spread from medical and environmental applications to usage in the food industry and corollaries in health and safety. Exploiting characteristics of human taste buds, for instance, impressions of creaminess can be generated by products containing no fats but of very low particle size prepared from, say, carbohydrates or even metals. Absorption of nano-sized particles through the gut wall or skin may also be enhanced by such miniaturization.

13. The confident entry into the alternative milks and their derivatives is a promising realization of long-held hopes in the veggie camp. Pioneering uses of crops other than soya, as in Plamil's WhiteSun based on peas, offer diversification in tune with Euro-agronomy. Leaf protein projects developed 60 years ago may come into their own, particularly with their economy and accommodation to tropical and sub-tropical food production and global warming. Dairy products from such sources can be truly green - due to chlorophyll coming through from the grasses.

14. It is a disappointment that the brash ads don't acknowledge the attraction to consumers who spare a thought and are willing to pay a premium for foods nourishing concepts of welfare for animals of all species and their offspring who should be enjoying the benefits of bonding with their mothers and their fill of colostrum and whole milk.  

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