For parents who don’t want to give their children cow’s milk, or for parents simply looking for an alternative, plant based milk such as milk made from rice, coconut, oats or other blends has long been an option. However, now new health guidelines are advising against giving children under the age of five plant-based milk but noting that fortified soy milk is still a healthy alternative.
The plant-based and non-dairy milks are said to provide no nutritional value to growing children, and instead, Healthy Eating Research recommends that children up until the age of five drink only breast milk, infant formula, water, and plain milk, according to a press release. An expert panel representing 4 key national health and nutrition organizations developed the comprehensive recommendations for children up until the age of five with regards to beverage consumption that will contribute to a healthy diet.
"In the last five to 10 years there has been an explosion of interest in plant-based milk. More and more parents are turning to them for a variety of reasons and there's a misconception that they are equal somehow to cow or dairy milk, but that's just not the case," said Megan Lott, who helped develop the recommendations as the deputy director of the Healthy Eating Research, reports CNN.
Lott added that there are some homes where cow’s milk isn’t an option, but added that a doctor should be consulted in those cases. "The guidelines do make an exception if a child has a dairy or cow milk allergy or is lactose intolerant or has religious rules or lives in a house that keeps a vegan diet, in that case, the parents should definitely consult with their pediatrician or dietitian," Lott said.
The researchers also warn against consuming added sugars in drinks and are telling parents and caregivers to avoid flavored milks, sodas, and sugar- and low-calorie sweetened beverages that are being marketed to children more often. "We are finding more and more of these artificial sweeteners showing up in food marketed to young children and there is no research on these substitutes that show they cause harm, but there's really no research showing that they are safe," said Lott.
“Early childhood is an important time to start shaping nutrition habits and promoting healthy beverage consumption,” Lott noted in the press release. “By providing caregivers, health care and early care and education providers, policymakers, and beverage industry representatives a clear set of objective, science-based recommendations for healthy drink consumption, we can use this opportunity to work together and improve the health and well-being of infants and young children throughout the United States.”
Richard Besser, MD, President, and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation which helped fund the research, commented on the findings. “From the time children are born through those first few years, beverages are a significant source of calories and nutrients and can have a big impact on health long into the future,” he said. “Families deserve clear and consistent guidance on what their young children should drink and what they should avoid. These recommendations from our country’s leading medical and nutrition organizations will help families raise healthy children.”