Another topic that I was asked about “taking the fight out of” was the topic of milk. Now this is a big one but I am going to try to tackle it. The truth is that the variety of milks out there have many similarities, but important differences as well. This post is not meant to sway you to include or not include cow’s milk in your diet or your child’s diet. It is simply meant to inform you of the differences in the milks and the nutritional requirements that we are trying to meet with milk and milk alternatives at different life stages.
Cow’s milk: Cow’s milk contains 2 main proteins: casein and whey. It also contains lactose which is a sugar made up of glucose and galactose. There are many micronutrients that naturally occur in cows milk such as calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B12 (among others), and then vitamin A and D are added as per government regulations. The nutrients in milk work together to help us build and maintain strong bones and teeth, but also serve many other purposes as well. Milk comes in various fat levels. Whole milk (or homogenized) is 3.25% fat. This is the best milk choice for children age 12-24 months who are no longer breastfed due to its high fat content. Fat is essential for brain development in children and choosing a lower fat milk product at this age would take away from the fat in their diet. For a child who is allergic to casein or lactose intolerant, breast milk or a non casein based formula is best until 2 years of age. For children ages 2 and up, 2% milk is a good choice as it has sufficient fat. Ideally children 2 and up are drinking 16 oz of milk per day…no more, no less. So what about children who are allergic/intollerant to casein, lactose intolerant, or vegan? Well that is when it gets confusing. I am going to try to “take the fight out of milk choice” for you now.
Soy milk: Soy milk has the same fat percent as 2% milk so it is a suitable option for children over 2 years of age. It also provides the same amount of “complete protein” as one cup of cow’s milk. It does not, however, contain all the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) as cow’s milk. So if you are choosing soy milk, then please ensure that you choose one that is fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 at least and ideally others as well. Because the micronutrients are added, they do not stay suspended in the milk very well so it is best to shake the carton of soy milk very well before pouring it to ensure that you are actually ingesting what you have paid for. Some people do not want to consume soy milk because of its estrogenic properties, so then we have to look at other milk alternatives.
Coconut milk: Coconut milk is the nest best option for children as it has the same fat content as 2% milk and soy milk. However, that is where the similarities end. Coconut milk is not a source of protein or any micronutrients. If a parent is choosing coconut milk for their child, then they need to replace the 16-18 grams of protein that would be provided by 2 cups of cow’s milk or soy milk each day AND ensure that the coconut milk is fortified and (as I said above) shake the carton well. A nice way to add a complete protein into coconut milk is to blend in hemp hearts. These are packed with protein and omega 3 and just add to the creamy nutty flavour that is already in coconut milk.
Two other milks that I am commonly asked about are almond and rice milk. These milks are not a source of fat or protein and are only a source of micronutrients if fortified. These milks are not suitable for young children unless they are mixed with higher fat and protein sources such as hemp hearts and chia seeds.
One other thing to consider is that a pure whey protein powder that is casein free is a nice complete protein alternative for a child that needs casein free but can handle whey.
I hope that this information is useful and as always, please comment below with any questions. If you want to read about our journey to dairy free with Clay, you can do so here.