Is a Milk Substitute Suitable for Children Aged 5 or Below?

By Medically reviewed by hellodoktor

“If your child does not like the taste of dairy milk, why don’t you feed her almond milk instead? I mean, it is after all, still a form of milk. So it should not be a problem,” proclaims the neighbour next door, ever-so-confidently. Seeing how confident she is about her suggestion, you would think that she’s probably correct, right? 

Well, we’ve got a suggestion for you, in order to ease the conundrum plaguing your thoughts. And that is to first read this article before you take up Mrs. Know It All on any more of her recommendations or suggestions. Who knows, it might just be able to help you attain a clearer indication of what is right and wrong when it comes to feeding your child, without having to worry about what might happen as a consequence of said feeding.

What are Substitute Forms of Milk?

With the rise in number of individuals suffering from an intolerance to lactose and allergy issues, there has been a steady increase in the number of plant-based milk beverage substitutes that are available in the global marketplace of recent times. Additionally, one of the factors that has given traction to the consumption of these milk substitute beverage products is the presumption that they actually provide an equal amount of nutrients as dairy milk in similar serving quantities. 

So what exactly does a plant-based milk substitute refer to? Simply put, it refers to a milk substitute beverage or product that is produced from plants sources which include, among others, oats, soy, peas, cashew nuts, almonds and coconut.

A Milk Substitute is Not a Suitable Replacement for Your Child

 

A Healthy Drinks Healthy Kids report refutes the claim above, however experts have claimed that milk substitute products which are plant-based, contain entirely distinct nutritional values that cannot replace those which are contained within dairy milk or a woman’s breast milk. In fact, the experts go on further to say that coconut milk, rice milk and other plant-based milks are dairy milk replacements that are not suitable for feeding to children below the age of 5. 

This is because dairy milk does not just contain calcium, but also a provision of balanced nutrition which includes vitamin D, B12, potassium, and protein as well. In other words, it’s like a “putting all grocery store goods into one basket” of essential nutrients for the healthy growth and development of children.

 

In stark contrast, these non-dairy milk substitutes (apart from enriched soy milk) do offer nutritional value, but it is believed to actually destroy nutrients that can be absorbed by healthy drinks if consumed by children. 

 

Zero Nutritional Balance. ZERO. 

Generally, some milk substitute products possess either one of the following extremes – a calorie amount that is high or excessive for milk products, too much or too little fat content, or a high carbohydrate content. If these do not scare you enough, then two other ingredients that you will have to look out for just might. The first being genetically-modified organisms (GMO). GMOs contain glysophate, which is a carcinogen that is responsible for cancer. Secondly, carageenan – a derivative of red seaweed which is added to foods to thicken their texture and prevent separation. Studies have linked carageenan to gut irritation, inflammation and even cancer. Although certain companies have adopted GMO and carageenan-free approaches to the preparation of their milk substitute products, there are others who still include these ingredients in their products.

More worryingly, a milk substitute could potentially contain high amounts of sugar or artificial sweeteners. High sugar content, as we know, contributes to a variety of chronic disease risks, which include obesity and heart disease, as well as health problems such as inflammation and high blood pressure. This however, is slightly better than the consumption of sodas which contain marginally higher levels of sugar content. 

Furthermore, certain milk substitute products would have possibly been enriched with nutritional content in order to make it “healthier” and more appealing to the masses, as compared to other milk alternatives. But in actuality, the additional nutrient composition provided by these products do not necessarily provide our bodies with the required vitamins and minerals in the same way which dairy milk does.

According to some experts, this is because our bodies may not be able to absorb nutrients from plant-based milks the same way it does with dairy milk. Why this is so is a direct consequence of the way our bodies process food or liquids consumed, which is to break each one down individually. Based on that theory, therefore, it was found that the structure and component of dairy milk, when pitted against a milk substitute product, makes its nutritional content more “bioavailable”, as nutritionists would like to call it.

Conclusion

For children ages 5 and below who might be suffering from an intolerance to lactose, or an allergy to dairy milk, a milk substitute could possibly be one of the options that you would take into consideration in order to help your child obtain the necessary nutrition requirements.

However, before you do, be sure to seek advice from a paediatrician or certified nutritionist before providing your child with any milk substitute beverages. Armed with the newfound information readily available at your fingertips, chances are you will be able to provide a rebuttal that will put that neighbour-next-door in her place, or even Dr. Google for that matter.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.