Making sense of' 'milk'


Doesn’t it seem like one of the fastest growing nutrition product markets has been the “milk” industry in the past five years? I am 100 percent confident that in my childhood, I never saw a commercial for almond milk.

No longer do parents walk into the grocery store and choose between skim and 2 percent milks. Now there are so many options ranging from organic and lactose free to non-animal derived sources like almond or rice milk. The variety has become slightly overwhelming. With growing concerns about allergies and the safety of our food sources, parents are left staring at the refrigerated section wondering which milk is best for their families. 

It is important to be an informed consumer when choosing a milk product in order to maximize the vitamins and minerals in your child’s diet.  First things first, you should know what nutrients are important to compare in each of these items.  Historically, traditional cow’s milk has been a major source of protein, calcium, and vitamin D for children over the age of 1, and the American Academy of Pediatrics continues to recommend transition to whole milk (and in some cases 2 percent) for children between the ages of 1 and 2 years old.

The recommended amount of vitamin D for all males and females ages 1-18 years is 600 IU daily, and calcium values are noted below:

Recommended Dietary Allowances for Calcium

While there is nothing wrong with continuing to provide cow’s milk, not all children tolerate the traditional variety due to allergies or lactose intolerance.  Since I receive questions about this regularly, here’s how the different types of milks stack up against each another:

The Vitamin D content varied so widely in rice, almond, and soy products that I couldn’t provide an average for the table. Cow’s milk contained an average of 120 IU of Vitamin D. When choosing an alternative to cow’s milk, try to find a product with a similar Vitamin D content.  

Though choosing a milk product for your family can’t be a one size fits all recommendation, cow’s milk and soy milk provide the most nutrition per ounce. The very low protein content in the rice and almond milks requires extra attention to be paid to make sure protein needs are met from other food sources. 

What about flavored milk?  Most flavored milks provide additional calories from sugar, but small amounts in moderation are still considered part of a healthful diet and an important way to encourage adequate calcium intake in children.  The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Institute of Medicine continue to recommend the provision of non-fat and low-fat (1%) flavored milks in schools. 

Remembering that milk, whatever type you choose for your family, is only part of a healthy diet.  Each of these items can help play a part in wholesome, varied diet, but any questions or concerns about your child’s intake should be addressed with their pediatrician or a dietitian.

Now drink up! 

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