Pediatrics Organization Advises Against Non-Dairy Milk for Small Children, but Needs to Be More Specific

Grocery store aisles are full of plant-based, non-dairy milks like almond milk, and milk made from soy, coconut, quinoa, hemp, cashew, rice, oats, and more. Those things are great news for people with dairy allergies. They’re also usually marketed as more healthful alternatives to cow’s milk, but now one pediatric health organization has said non-dairy milk is inappropriate to be the primary beverage for small children, and kids should be drinking animal milks like cow’s or goat’s milk instead. But there are many different varieties of non-dairy milk, and they have different benefits, drawbacks, and nutritional profiles.

According to The Kitchn, the Canadian Paediatric Society and Dieticians of Canada recently issued a joint statement advising parents not to rely on non-dairy milks for their young children’s primary beverages.

Plant-based beverages, including soy milk, almond milk, and others, are “inappropriate alternatives to cow milk in the first two years,” the statement read. They advise parents of kids with dairy allergies to seek advice from a dietician. They say parents of kids who can eat dairy should serve milk and water.

Non-dairy milk is marketed as more healthful than dairy milk.

“We see parents that are well-intentioned that are moving to a plant-based beverage for their children thinking they are doing a good thing, while actually they are withholding important nutrients and proteins,” the Canadian Paediatric Society’s Dr. Catherine Pound said to The Canadian Press.

The CPS doctors say their logic stems from the fact that most plant-based milks do not have enough protein or fat for small children. Almond milk, coconut milk, and many other varieties contain little to no protein or fat.

“Fat is extremely important for a child or a toddler because it certainly contributes to brain growth,” Pound said. “We do not want to restrict fat at all for the first couple years of life.”

Fat and protein are necessary for small children’s development. But there are non-dairy milks that do contain protein and fat. Rice milk may have negligible nutritional value, but soy milk and pea milk have protein, fat, and calcium. (Many parents of kids with dairy allergies have been pretty excited about pea milk lately.)

The CPS statement points out that many non-dairy milks are not fortified with minerals or vitamins, and that many contain a ton of sugar. That is definitely true. But there are also fortified non-dairy milks that don’t contain sugar or sweeteners. Parents should always check nutrition labels, but it’s not necessarily time for parents of kids with dairy allergies or dietary restrictions to panic.

One study indicated that kids who drink non-dairy milk are slightly shorter than milk-drinking kids.

It is true that a recent study indicated that kids who drink a lot of non-dairy milk are shorter than kids who drink dairy milk. The study said kids were about .4 cm shorter for every cup of non-dairy milk they drank on a daily basis, while kids who drank dairy milk were .2 cm taller for every cup of milk they drank on a daily basis.

“On average, a 3-year-old drinking three cups a day of cow’s milk was 1.5 cm taller than a 3-year-old who drank three cups of non-cow’s milk daily. Those drinking both types of milk were shorter than average,” the study said.

 Critics, however, pointed out that the study did not ask what kind of non-dairy milk the non-dairy-milk-drinking kids were drinking. That’s a pretty key piece of information, and the study reportedly treated all non-dairy milks as the same thing. They also didn’t ask why the kids were drinking non-dairy milk, or about the kids’ overall diets. So the study is an important piece of data, but more information is necessary.


(Image: iStockPhoto / shalamov)

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