Recently I discovered something that I, an avid and normally savvy label-reader, am surprised I never noticed before. Virtually very organic brand of coconut milk, soymilk, almond milk, etc. is “fortified” with Vitamin D2 (by all accounts/research a poorly absorbed/utilized and unhealthy form; all authorities recommend we supplement with D3 and most of the supps we buy are indeed D3), and synthetic Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate). I would normally avoid both like the plague (and thought i was!).
In both cases, toxicity and unhealthy effects (and lack of health benefits) in studies came from using the synthetic forms; toxicity from natural forms is beyond rare, and health benefits only come from natural forms.
For some reason, prescription vitamin D is given in the form of D2 (ergocalciferol). Sunshine exposure and fish consumption provide vitamin D in the form of D3 (cholecalciferol). The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says that “Vitamin D2, or ergocalciferol, should not be regarded as a nutrient suitable for supplementation or fortification.” So why are all of our “organic” nutmilks and non-dairy milks “fortifying” with this vitamin?
I don’t want or need the fortification, period (I just want the freakin’ coconut); but if the companies feel that every single alternative milk product has to match US RDAs for A and D offered by cow’s milk (ridiculous, in my opinion; how many people drink “milk” for those nutrients anyway?), for goodness’ sake use the natural forms. (D3 is almost as cheap as D2; you can get a ginormous bottle of D3 5000 IU veggie softgels for five bucks.)
As for synthetic Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate), synthetic vitamins in general have been widely and repeatedly proven not to have the benefits of their natural counterparts and in some cases to actually cause harm. Vitamin A is no exception. (It should also be avoided topically in skincare, too, according to the Environmental Working Group and many others.)
I am dismayed at this discovery, and I’m not going to use them anymore. I was sort of agnostic about the guar gum, gellan gum, and xanthan gum in most of these milks, based on my research, but synthetic vitamins is going too far.
I posted on Pacific Foods’ FB page in June 2015:
Please stop putting synthetic vitamin D and synthetic vitamin A in your milks. I was loving your unsweetened coconut milk by the case until I noticed this. D3 is not that much more expensive than D2 and studies show it is more effective and less toxic. I will not buy your product any more till you use natural vitamins or take them out altogether (I don’t drink it for the A and D anyway! I bet most people don’t either.) It’s marketing, not health-producing. I suggest you find out what people really want on this. I’d spend more to get coconut milk, soy milk and almond milk without synthetic useless vitamins.
The fact is, you don’t need to drink anything to get Vitamin D. If you find or believe you are deficient (and many natural/functional medicine doctors do consider that many people are; a simple blood test called 25(OH)D, also called 25-hydroxyvitamin D, can confirm if you want to be sure) and you want to supplement Vitamin D, go to iherb.com / vitacost.com / luckyvitamin.com or such, and look for Vitamin D3. It’s dirt cheap. You can get 1000 IU, 5000 IU or 10,000 IU depending how low you are and how much you want/need to supplement (again, get tested).
(The normal range of vitamin D is measured as nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL). Some experts recommend a level between 20 and 40 ng/mL, or 30 to 50 ng/mL. Natural healing experts who tend to look for “optimal” and not just “normal” most often recommend a level between 50 and 70 ng/mL, and between 70-100 if you’re in the throes of a major illness. (Over 100 ng/mL is definitely considered excessive.)
For now, I figured out how to get my beloved unsweetened vanilla coconut milk for my delicious smoothies without buying the prepared cartons that are always fortified with retinyl palmitate and D2. For those like me who don’t have the bandwidth to buy whole coconuts, cut or shred them up, grind down into butter, etc., the middle way seems to be to buy culinary coconut milk or coconut cream, unsweetened. Unlike the drinking milks, these aren’t fortified. (Many do contain guar gum, but at least not gellan gum and xanthan gum too.)
Simply pour a can/container—about 11-15 ounces—of the culinary coconut milk into a glass quart (or so) jar, fill the rest with fresh filtered water, and add a splash of vanilla if desired. (I desire.)
This works just as well in my smoothies as the Pacific Foods brand I was buying. No fortification I don’t need. And it’s actually cheaper this way. I’m paying about a buck fifty for 32 ounces instead of 3.50. Score!