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How to choose the right milk for your family


For many parents, milk is a go-to drink when it comes to boosting calcium intake for your little one. But with so many plant and animal options, from cow to goat to soy and coconut, which is the best fit for your family? We answer that question with the help of registered dietitian, Nishta Saxena.

Note: There's no need for any of these before the age of 12 months old. In fact, it could be harmful by displacing necessary nutrients crucial for growth and can disrupt healthy patterns of breastfeeding. No alternative milks are recommended as a replacement for animal milk for children under the age of 2 years. If you're not sure if your child is getting the right nutrients without a plant-based beverage, check with a registered dietitian.


Goat's Milk
This milk is fortified like other milk to contain vitamin D and is an excellent source of vitamin A. It's an excellent source of calcium for growing little ones. It has zinc, selenium, iron, and many other naturally occurring nutrients.

PROS:

  • It's often a little easier to digest for some people due to different and smaller protein particles and formation of fat globules.
  • It contains many other substances such as healthy trans fats and CLA because it is a whole food.

CONS:
  • Not ideal for vegetarians or vegans.
  • Some people find the taste tangy or earthy in a negative way and it can take some getting used to.
  • It's expensive and hard to find in many areas of the country, though if you're near a farmer's market or a local goat dairy, you're in luck.

Cow's Milk
Cow's milk is most common of all the milks and historically has been consumed in many cultures for thousands of years. It's an excellent source of calcium.

PROS:
  • Readily available in most areas and lower in price than many alternatives.
  • The tastes and use are commonly accepted.
  • It has many other compounds that are beneficial and has tracts of healthy trans fats and CLA as it's a whole food.

CONS:
  • Not ideal for vegetarians or vegans.
  • Many people find cow's milk harder to digest, either due to the protein type and size or the naturally occurring sugar known as lactose. Many people identify with having lactose-intolerance.

Almond Milk
This is a very popular alternative to milk. It's made from filtered water and almonds. Almond milk is not all fortified to the same level of calcium as animal and soy milk, so if that's how you're using it, be  sure to read the label.

PROS:
  • It's a great alternative to milk if you find one with a good calcium-fortification.
  • It has a mild flavour.

CONS:
  • It's expensive and highly processed.
  • It doesn't work for people with a sensitivity or allergy to almonds.
  • To create a proper fluid that stays together in the box, all the plant-based milks contain fillers and binders; some common names for these are xanthan gum, locust bean gum, guar gum, gellan gum. These come from a variety or sources including everything from legumes to seaweed to bacteria. These are mostly innocuous, but there are a couple of options that have some human trials and cell trials showing they may in fact be a danger to human health. More often, they can irritate the lining of the gut in some people and potentially change the balance of healthy bacteria in those sensitive to gut issues.
  • There can be a lot of added sugars in the flavoured options.

Fortified Soy Milk
This is a common alternative to animal milks, especially for babies and kids who are allergic to dairy-based formulas or milk. It's made from filtered water and processed soy beans that are made into a mash fortified with a calcium suspension to supply the same amount of calcium as cow milk.

PROS:
  • Soy protein has some associated health benefits for many people. It's a processed food but contains naturally occurring nutrition. It also contains a special naturally occurring plant compound called isoflavones—there's a lot of great evidence that these compounds in the whole food form are important for heart health, reducing risk of some cancers.

CONS:
  • More expensive than other choices.
  • It can have a lot of added sugars, so look for unsweetened versions.
  • To create a proper fluid that stays together in the box, all the plant-based milks contain fillers and binders (similar to those mentioned in almond milk).

Coconut Milk
This is new to a lot of people and could mean one of two things: actual 90 per cent coconut milk found in cans, and newer types that are similar to almond and soy milk (made with filtered water and varying amounts of coconut cream). It's also fortified but not always to the same level as animal milks with calcium and vitamin D, so read the label to be sure.

PROS:
  • Interesting flavour compared to other milks.

CONS:
  • More expensive than other choices.
  • Highly processed—you're not getting the benefits of eating actual coconut meat or any other perceived health benefits from drinking this.
  • There can be a lot of added sugars, so look for unsweetened versions.
  • The types of fats contained are not appropriate for some people.
  • To create a proper fluid that stays together in the box, all the plant-based milks contain fillers and binders (similar to those mentioned in almond and soy milks).

Nutrition is as individual as a finger print, so one family's choice may be completely different than yours. The most important thing is that you're making an informed choice for your kids.

 

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