- Toddlers who routinely drink plant-derived milk substitutes such as soy or almond milk may not grow as tall as their peers who consume regular cow’s milk.
- Differences in nutritional content across milk alternatives, such as lower levels of protein, fat, and certain nutrients, may contribute to this disparity.
- While parents may opt for milk substitutes for various reasons, it’s crucial to check the nutrition labels to ensure their child’s diet is well-rounded and nutritionally sufficient.
- The height of a 3-year-old, even if shorter due to alternative milk consumption, can still be an essential indicator of their overall nutritional status and development, and it is possible they may reach the anticipated height later in life.
- Parents considering introducing a more restricted diet plan (like veganism) to their children should consult with a pediatric nutrition specialist to ensure their child’s nutritional needs are adequately considered.
Toddlers who consume plant-derived milk substitutes, such as soy or almond milk, might not attain the same height as their peers drinking regular cow’s milk, according to a recent study.
The study delved into determining the impact of different types of milk consumption on the growth of more than 5,000 young participants in Canada. Results indicated an approximately half-inch height difference in a three-year-old who consumed three servings of alternative milk daily as compared to his/her peer who drank an equivalent amount of cow’s milk.
Milk Alternatives and Their Nutritional Differences
Study lead, Dr. Jonathon Maguire, posits that the disparity in nutritional content across different milk alternatives might be causing this sizeable difference. It’s reasonable to conjecture that some of these substitutes might not possess the same levels of protein, fat, and certain nutrients as cow’s milk.
“Compare to soy milk, almost no protein is present in other plant-based milk substitutes,” points out Erin Corrigan, a children’s nutrition expert. She further explains that while coconut milk is considerably high in fat content, most dairy alternatives lack significant fat content. This is a matter of concern for toddlers’ dietary requirements, which differ significantly from adults. Additionally, milk substitutes do not offer the same bioavailability of calcium as cow’s milk.
Choosing the Right Alternative
There is no contention regarding the necessity of cow’s milk in a child’s diet. However, it’s crucial for parents opting for milk substitutes to scrutinize nutrition labels carefully. Ensuring a child’s diet is replete with ample protein, fats, and other nutrients is of the essence.
The study also underscored a correlation between the type of milk consumed and the child’s height at age three. An interesting trend observed was children drinking non-cow’s milk daily fell behind the norm for their age group by 0.15 inches per cup of alternative milk. On the contrary, each daily cup of cow’s milk made a child 0.08 inches taller than the standard for their age.
Factors Beyond Milk Alternatives
Before jumping to conclusions, Corrigan points out key gaps in the research – the kind of cow’s milk substitute consumed and a child’s overall food intake. The motivation behind parents choosing non-cow’s milk is also worth pondering, she adds. Family dietary norms like vegetarianism or veganism could be influential factors too.
While a vegetarian diet can be suitable for young children, vegan regimes—which exclude all animal-based products, including eggs and dairy—are harder to meet nutritional requirements. The child’s acceptance and varied intake of foods like quinoa, legumes, tempeh, and avocados dictate the nutritional adequacy of such diets, explains Corrigan.
Implications of Being Shorter
While a 3-year-old’s height relative to their contemporaries might appear inconsequential, it serves as an essential indicator of a child’s overall nutritional status and physical development, explains Dr. Maguire. It’s worth noting that any child consuming alternative milk might eventually reach their expected height later in life.
Regardless, parents should not presume non-dairy alternatives to be healthier substitutes to cow’s milk despite constant advertising claims. Corrigan advises caution while selecting flavored non-dairy milk variants that are typically sugar-sweetened, appealing to young children but unhealthy in the long run.
Parents keen on introducing a more restricted diet plan to their children should ideally consult a pediatric nutrition specialist. Monitoring and maintaining the balance of macronutrients are of utmost importance for the child’s healthy growth and development.