This liquid trend could be hurting your child’s growth
Food trends aren’t a new thing. Avocado toast, kale, bullet coffee, bacon, sushi burritos, quinoa, cupcakes, ramen, poke, cronuts and sriracha are all examples of foods that have had their moment in the spotlight.
Some of these trends have pushed people toward healthier ways of eating. Others, not so much. And, scientific research backing up health claims can be sparse for new foods on the scene.
One of the biggest trends of the last few years has been switching from cow’s milk to non-dairy “dupes,” or substitutes, for perceived health benefits. Almond milk, coconut milk, soy milk and cashew milk are some popular examples.
Have you and your family made the switch? If so, you may want to pay attention to a new study that indicates that choice could be affecting your child’s health.
The study, funded by the Canadian government and published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggests that young children between the ages of 1 and 3 who drink non-cow’s milk may be slightly shorter than their peers. Researchers found that among the more than 5,000 children who participated in the study, a 3-year-old who drinks three cups of cow’s milk was, on average, half an inch taller than those who drank the same amount of non-cow’s milk.
Parent’s milk choices may not be entirely to blame, as disparities in overall food intake may have influenced the results, acknowledge the researchers in the study. But, the nutritional value of milk substitutes varies widely—even brand-to-brand—and children could be getting shortchanged on protein, fat and other nutrients.
“Depending on what is added, some substitutes could be considered sugary drinks,” says Dr. Omprakash Sawlani, a member of Advocate Physician Partners on staff at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, Ill. “Substitutes can often compromise calorie, fat and vitamin D intake, while increasing carbohydrate intake.”
The big difference, says Dr. Sawlani, is protein—a nutrient that is even more important for children and the elderly.
“Almond milk has almost no protein, and the quality of protein in other plant-based products can fluctuate,” he says. “Parents need to be careful to give young children the nutrition they need to grow. You need to read labels very carefully to determine what’s best.”
For infants under one year of age who are allergic to cow’s milk, the best substitute may be special formulas like Nutramigen, Progestimil, Alimentum or Neocate, according to Dr. Sawlani. For kids over one year of age, shifting the rest of their diet is often necessary when substituting for cow’s milk.
“By adjusting egg, meat, fish and chicken intake while adding a Vitamin D supplement, you can often find a healthy balance,” says Dr. Sawlani. “Because, as this study suggests, not all ‘health foods’ are the healthiest option.”
Parents should discuss their choices with their child’s physician.