U.S. breast milk lags behind China, Mexico in level of carotenoids

FV_ad_THMRemember when youre mamma told you to eat your vegetables?

Once again we’re finding out that mamma knew what she was talking about—even if she didn’t know the specific nutrient details.

A study led by Purdue University has established that the quality of breast milk differs by country—and the quality is largely determined by the amount of vegetables eaten.

The study, published in PLOS ONE in June, analyzed the levels of health-promoting compounds known as carotenoids in various countries.

The research determined that U.S. breast milk lagged behind both China and Mexico.

Carotenoids are plant pigments that potentially play functional roles in human development and are key sources of vitamin A, an essential component of eye health and the immune system.

The carotenoid content of a woman’s breast milk is determined by her consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Especially important is that mothers consume an assortment of colors, along with dark, leafy greens.

The Purdue University study compared breast milk at the two-week point after giving birth.

The study fount that the mean amount of total carotenoids in American women’s breast milk was about 40 percent lower than levels in Chinese women’s milk and about 25 percent lower than levels in Mexican women’s milk.

Though follow-up research is needed, the study’s authors believe the low carotenoid levels in the breast milk of American women is indicative of the lower amount of fruits and vegetables eaten in the U.S. compared with China or Mexico.

It appears the Standard American Diet (SAD) is wreaking havoc on Americans even before they are born.

“Evidence is increasing that carotenoids are important for both mothers and infants,” said Mario Ferruzzi, professor of food science and nutrition. “Nursing women should eat fruits and vegetables as recommended in dietary guidelines. As long as your baby is happy with it, don’t exclude bright orange or yellow produce and leafy vegetables from your diet.”

Ferruzzi also added that fruit and vegetable consumption appears to be pretty low across the nation: “In general, we are just not consuming the recommended amounts.”

Further analysis of the test subjects’ breast milk included examinations at four, 13 and 26 weeks after giving birth.

Breast milk from China had the highest levels of lutein—a carotenoid that is key to eye health—at each lactation stage and the highest amount of fatty acids at each stage except 13 weeks.

Possible links between lutein and infants’ visual development and brain health is an area of growing research interest world-wide.

Levels of beta-carotene—a carotenoid that can be converted into vitamin A by the body—varied greatly by country and lactation stage but were about 25 percent higher in milk from China and Mexico than the U.S. at two weeks.

There was some good news for U.S. women in the study: One carotenoid, lycopene, tested higher in the U.S. test subjects.

Lycopene is an important carotenoid commonly found in tomatoes, and has been shown to play a role in immunity and protection against inflammatory diseases.

Milk from China had the lowest lycopene levels at each lactation stage.

This is likely due to the fact that tomatoes are used widely—including in canned, frozen, packaged and microwavable meals—in the U.S., while they are not widely used in China.

Sources: Purdue.edu, PlosOne.org.

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