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Plant-based milk alternatives in the USDA Branded Food Products Database would benefit from nutrient density standards


Many plant-based beverages (PBBs) in the US Department of Agriculture Branded Food Products Database serve as milk alternatives or replacements. Their collective nutrient content and fortification patterns need to be evaluated more fully. Listed ingredients for 641 PBBs were machine-searched for added vitamins, minerals, sugar and salt. The Nutrient Rich Food index NRF5.3 measured nutrient density. Except for soy milks, there was little consistency in nutrient density and micronutrient content across and within PBB product types. Industry-wide voluntary nutrient standards are one mechanism to bring more consistency to the expanding PBB category.

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Fig. 1: Nutrient content of individual PBBs within a category.

Data availability

The USDA BFPDB is publicly available online at FoodData Central.

Code availability

The SPSS code for calculating the NRF score is in the public domain and can be provided on request.


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Analyses of the publicly available USDA BFPDB were supported by Dairy Management Inc. The funder was not involved in data collection, data analysis, interpretation of data, the writing of the initial draft of the article or in the decision to submit the manuscript for publication.

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Correspondence to Adam Drewnowski.

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Competing interests

A.D. is the original developer of the Naturally Nutrient Rich and the Nutrient Rich Food (NRF) indices. That work was supported at the time by the Nutrient Rich Coalition whose members were the Beef Checkoff Program through the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the California Avocado Commission, California Kiwifruit, the California Strawberry Commission, the Egg Nutrition Center, Florida Department of Citrus, the Grain Foods Foundation, the National Dairy Council, the National Pork Board, the United States Potato Board, the Wheat Foods Council and the Wild Blueberry Association of North America. A.D. has received grants, contracts and honoraria from entities both public and private with an interest in nutrient density metrics and nutrient profiling of foods.

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Peer review information Nature Food thanks Michael Gibney, Edmond Rock and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Drewnowski, A. Plant-based milk alternatives in the USDA Branded Food Products Database would benefit from nutrient density standards. Nat Food 2, 567–569 (2021).

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