Cross-posted from Laura’s new blog, Dietitian at Home.
I came across this product a few weeks ago in my grocery store’s pharmacy section. It was located right beside the prenatal vitamins I was about to pick out. It wasn’t until I saw the price that I really paid attention to it: $29.99 for a 276g bag. It also comes with a long list of purported benefits. I decided to scrutinize each claim made to see if it really is worth the small fortune they’re asking.
Based on the ingredients list, I saw nothing out of the ordinary, just some naturalist claims and the implication that organic is automatically healthier:
The ‘Healing Mix’ is USDA certified. It is completely Natural and Organic. There are no additives, preservatives, coloring or chemicals added. The ‘Healing Mix’ ingredients are : Organic Flax, Organic Oats, Organic Almonds, Organic Honey, Organic Cinnamon, Organic Wheat, Organic Butter, Organic Walnuts, Organic Pistachios, Organic Brown Sugar, Organic Raisins, Organic Pine Nuts, and Organic Melon Seeds.
Sounds like some sort of sweet, buttery streusel topping.
I looked at some online reviews and found one glaring red flag: every review I could find was fully funded by the company and the reviewers were basically reading the list of claims right off the package.
Sigh. Well, time for an ACTUAL, unbiased review of the products claims.
Emotional wellness: 300 mg DHA per mother’s needs, will improve cognitive wellness.
There is no specific RDA (recommended dietary allowance) DHA. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States recommends 200mg DHA daily. People can meet this recommendation through two servings of fatty fish each week (good examples are salmon, mackerel, trout, and arctic char). Futhermore, none of the ingredients listed contain any DHA (it is typically found in animal foods); at best the nuts and flax provide some alpha-linolenic acid, a precursor to DHA, which is poorly converted to DHA in the human body.
Cognitive wellness: adequate glycogen stores, 3:1 carb: protein ratio; helps to regain mental clarity.
Keeping up energy levels can be difficult as a parent. New and lactating mothers often need up to an additional 500 calories each day. Most women can easily get these calories from 3-4 additional servings from the basic food groups. Eating a balanced diet with good quality protein will help you feel satisfied and make your energy last longer. A low carbohydrate diet can cause fatigue, low mood, and poor focus. The overall proportions of protein and carbohydrates in the diet may be important for optimal replenishment of glycogen stores, however it is not necessary that a particular food have the 3:1 ratio described.
Physical wellness: nutrients for physical recovery, vitamin C for healing, 600 mg recommended dose for new mothers.
Adequate vitamin C is important for health, tissue healing and repair. The RDA for vitamin C during lactation is 120mg/day, there is no basis for the 600 mg/day claim. The biggest problem with this claim is that, after careful inspection of the product’s nutrition facts table shows that each tablespoon (about ½ a scoop) provides 0% daily value of vitamin C. If you’re looking to increase your vitamin C intake, NOW for Mothers is a poor choice.
Baby wellness: babies need adequate fat and calcium, each scoop has 1000mg Ca++ and 9 g fat.
There are two issues with this claim. First, the nutritional composition of breastmilk is very constant, almost regardless of maternal intake. This is to ensure that feast or famine, infants will get the nutrients they need to grow and develop. If the mother’s diet is deficient in a nutrient, her body will draw on its own stores to maintain breast milk consistency. Additional calcium or fat in the mother’s diet will not increase the fat or calcium content of her milk. Second, according to the nutrition facts table, each tablespoon provides 4% DV of calcium, which translates roughly to 40 mg. The manufacturer suggests taking 2-3 scoops daily, meaning at most you’ll receive 240 mg calcium from the product, not the 1000mg they claim.
Stimulates energy flow: Like Chi? There is no evidence or scientific rationale of an “energy flow” in the human body. This statement is essentially meaningless.
Stabilizes blood sugar levels for sustained energy: Plausible, depending on the person’s diet as a whole. See below.
Assists in reducing congestion and phlegm in the body: Wha?… Are they talking about phlegm, one of the four humours of medieval medicine? If that’s the case, enough of a reason to write off this product right there. As for congestion, the most common causes for this include allergies, viri (like the common cold), and in this target population, pregnancy.
Aids in flushing toxins from the system: Without listing any specific toxins, this claim becomes completely meaningless. It is implausible that one food mixture could “flush” ALL toxins, and highly unlikely that it could remove ANY. Remember, the human body has an incredibly powerful toxin removal system through the kidneys and liver; unless damaged, these organs do not need any supplements or special foods to help them do their work.
Under the “how it works” sections:
Sustained Energy: Potentially true, depending on a person’s current diet. Whole foods and foods containing healthy fats and protein can help prevent blood sugar spikes and drops which can lead to low energy. If a person’s diet is already balanced and based on whole foods, she is unlikely to see significant benefit.
Balanced Hormones: See below.
Help in Lactation: Oatmeal is often claimed to increase milk supply, but there is no evidence to show this is the case. Again, if a woman’s caloric intake is too low, her milk supply may suffer, so the additional calories from this supplement may help improve the situation. To be clear, it is the additional calories, not this supplement, that would cause the benefit.
Better Brain Development for Baby: See above. Only if the mother and her diet are highly deficient in key nutrients.
Increase in Metabolism: Plausible, if your caloric intake is really low and you’re slipping into starvation mode. The additional calories may help get you burning calories instead of storing them.
Boost in Immunity: Nope. This article explains how to improve your immune system. NOW for mothers can be part of a healthy diet, but it is not the key ingredient that will keep the colds away.
- Sidenote: if you have a child between 0-6 years old, good luck keeping illnesses away.
Stronger Bones: 2-3 scoops of the product provide about 25% of a lactating woman’s calcium needs. For women with historically low intake of calcium, this may help them meet their needs.
Toxins: Which “toxins”? How? I’m not putting in any more effort into discussing this until they make some specific claims.
Inflammation: Maybe…if your diet is really low in omega-3 fatty acids and really high in refined foods.
Phlegm: So does a cough, sneeze, and a Kleenex. See above.
Acidity: Actually, the body’s incredibly complex and sensitive homeostatic systems take care of that without any help.
Excess Estrogen: This claim likely comes from the findings that lignans (fat-soluble compounds that are metabolized into estrogen-like compounds) may have anti-carcinogenic effects due to binding to estrogen receptors in place of estrogen. This process does not change the body’s production of estrogen, as implied by this claim. As time passes after birth, and eventually once lactation ends, hormone levels will return to normal. If you have reason to believe they are not stabilizing, this product is unlikely to help. In this case, seek qualified medical advice.
Final verdict: There is no evidence that this exorbitantly priced streusel topping will accomplish any of the claims it sets out. Stick to regular granola, muesli, or oatmeal, eat flax seeds and nuts in small portions regularly, and save your money (the child will take up that extra cash soon enough). If you really love the flavour of this topping, make your own.