A panel including the American Academy of Paediatrics released recommendations stating that children under the age 5 should avoid plant-based milks. Unless a child has dietary restrictions, cow’s milk is recommended for children ages 12 months and older to help supply protein, calcium, vitamin D and other nutrients.
“Milk is an important part of a child’s diet due to its nutrient content to help develop healthy bones, regulate blood pressure and maintain a healthy weight,” says Otoniel Santiago, a clinical dietitian with Get Up & Go by Children’s Health℠ supported by Kohl’s Cares. “Many plant-based milks do not match dairy’s essential nutrients so it’s important for parents to understand their options.
“Cow’s milk has key essential nutrients that are not matched in plant-based alternatives,” Santiago explains. “When comparing nutrient content such as protein and calcium, ounce per ounce, dairy is the best milk choice for children.”
What is plant-based milk?
Plant-based milk refers to non-dairy milk options, which can be made from a variety of plants, nuts or seeds. Common plant-based milks include:
- Soy milk
- Almond milk
- Oat milk
- Coconut milk
- Pea milk
- Rice milk
While the popularity of plant-based milk is growing, many of these dairy alternatives vary in terms of protein and other nutrients. Some plant-based milks are fortified with vitamins; others are sweetened with added sugars. It’s important to check labels to understand each product’s nutritional value.
One exception is for children with a dairy intolerance or allergy, or for families with a dietary preference such as eating vegan due to religious or lifestyle beliefs. For children who need an alternative to cow’s milk, soy milk is the best plant-based milk choice.
Why is milk important for children?
Dairy milk has essential nutrients that support a child’s growing body, including:
- High-quality protein
- Calcium (supports bone health)
- Potassium (helps maintain healthy blood pressure)
- Vitamin D (supports bone health and heart health)
- Vitamin B12 (builds red blood cells)
- Vitamin A (improves the immune system)
- Phosphorus (supports bone health)
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin, which converts food into energy)
- Vitamin B3 (niacin, which converts food into energy)
Many children have lower levels of vitamin D, a nutrient that the body makes naturally from sun exposure. Children with low levels of vitamin D, especially during the younger years, can be exposed to a condition called rickets (softening of the bones) and poor growth. Cow’s milk is one of the best ways to replenish this vitamin and plays an important role in keeping your child healthy.
The Haelen® method treats milk with a gentle cold method rather than through intense heat through pasteurisation, meaning improved flavour and nutrition which is lost to traditional processing.
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