Almost 20 years ago when I had my first child, I knew nothing about nutrition other than what we were taught as children about the four main food groups and dairy was a big one on that list. In fact, all of my children have been raised on cow’s milk and knowing what I know now about it, I wish the information that I have available today was available to me back then.
My own daughter, who is 2 years old now, has been off of cow's milk since she was 19 months old. Once I made the decision to remove it from my own diet, I felt that while she’s young, it’s a prime opportunity to start her down a healthier path.
Why Should We Stop Giving Our Toddler Cow's Milk?
This is something that not everyone will understand and I know exactly why they won’t understand. I was in their shoes just a few short months ago. I was completely blinded by what was in our milk. After all, we drank it and we turned out fine didn’t we? That’s the excuse I hear most often: we turned out fine.
The thing is, you aren’t fine. I’m not fine. Our children aren’t fine. You just haven’t been keeping your eyes open wide enough and long enough to see that many of the health problems we face are due to the chemical processes that go on when making cow’s milk.
Ask yourself this. If you found out that dairy distributors were sprinkling tiny amounts of titanium (that’s a metal) into it that had no nutritional benefit, your body couldn’t use it and wouldn’t necessarily make you feel any different, would you still be saying "doesn’t matter as long as I turn out fine"? Well, if you said no, you better switch, because most likely your milk contains small pieces of metal called titanium oxide simply to make it pretty and bright white.
For instance, it’s known that dairy forms mucus in the body. What is mucus? It’s a nasty substance in your body that actually causes bacteria. Cow milk drinkers are a bacteria paradise for things like the flu, colds, asthma, childhood diabetes and other diseases. I’d like to keep mucus out of my body and my child’s body to keep her from getting as many of those diseases as possible. Wouldn’t you?
How can we not include milk in our diet? Don’t we need it to help our children develop strong bones?
Actually no. Did you know that high dairy consumption can actually lead to increased osteoporosis? This is another incorrect belief that we were taught as children but it’s actually been proven that it is better to have a balanced intake of ALL bone creating minerals as well as Vitamin A, C and D. A diet high in cow’s milk actually causes deficiencies in magnesium and other bone creating minerals. Hemp milk in fact, has more calcium than cow’s milk so don’t buy into the non-truths that the industry is trying to sell you.
The dairy industry has funded and hyped milk up to make us all believe that cow’s milk is the healthiest option available for calcium and Vitamin D and that it’s essential to a healthy body. It’s a cultural myth and completely false. Of course, it’s hard to convince people of that when you have celebrity’s talking about how great it is and how skinny and strong they are on it. It also makes me wonder if these celebrities are aware of what exactly they are helping to promote.
According to the Institute of Medicine, a toddler should get a recommended daily allowance of 700mg of calcium per day and 600 IU per day of Vitamin D. How can we possibly get this into our toddler each day without cows milk?Credit: Institute of Medicine
Aside from switching to an alternative such as soy milk, there are plenty of other ways to get those nutrients your child needs.
What if my doctor says I have to give my children milk? I’m not advising you to go against your doctor, that’s a decision you have to make for yourself. I believe the reason most doctors recommend giving young children a diet of cow’s milk is because there are certain nutrients and minerals that your children need to have strong bones, brain development and strong growth. Dairy products are the easy way to do it. Many parents don’t take the time to create balanced meals and highly nutritious meals for their children. Have you seen the line at McDonalds lately? That’s the easy way and if that’s what you are feeding your kids, where your milk comes from is the least of your worries.
The truth is, toddlers do not need dairy products at all. What they need are calcium and Vitamin D. For those of you feeding your children healthy well balanced meals with plenty of the required nutrients, cow's milk is just not needed and they can get everything they need from their daily eating lifestyle if you are making sure they have a proper diet.
Best Sources of Calcium and Vitamin D
- 1/2 cup of raw tofu processed with calcium gives you 435 mg of calcium and 105 IU of Vitamin D
- 1/2 cup of cooked spinach gives you 122 mg of calcium
- 1 cup of broccoli florets gives you 44 mg of calcium
- 1 ounce of almonds gives you 80 mg of calcium
- 1 - 8 ounce serving of calcium fortified orange juice gives you 290 mg of calcium
- Even higher sources of Vitamin D can be found in fatty fish such as tuna, salmon or rainbow trout
- Vitamin D can be naturally obtained by simply being out in the sun
- Supplements are always an option
What Are My Alternatives to Cow’s Milk?
Your two main options for an alternative to cow’s milk is going to come either from another animal or a plant. For the purpose of this article, I am going to be sticking just to plant based milk alternatives.
Plant Based Milks
The three most popular plant based milks are soy, nut or grain. For those of you with lactose intolerant kiddos, you’re in luck with plant based milks because it’s technically not milk at all since milk comes from an animal. The texture and taste, however, make it a fantastic replacement.
We purchased a carton of soy milk to test with my daughter and to be honest it was probably the best tasting of all of the milks and was close in consistency to whole cow’s milk. This would make it a much easier transition, however, in my research there were a few drawbacks.
First, there wasn’t much calcium in soy milk at all. Second, there was quite a bit of chatter on some of the forums I participate on about hormone level increases. Digging deeper, I found studies that link soy to an increased risk of breast cancer. One has to wonder if the benefits outweigh the risk.
On the flip side, the good thing about soy milk is that it’s loaded with protein and fiber. It is also lower in sugar than cow’s milk so it can also help to lose weight. Soy milk has approximately 7 grams of sugar per cup (vanilla has 10) while cow’s milk contains 12 grams per cup. You can also get soy milk that is fortified with calcium and Vitamin D.
Nut milks can be made from a variety of nuts but some of the most popular are almond milk, coconut milk and hemp milk. The main process involves taking the nuts and grinding them up along with some water and then straining it through something like a mesh nut milk bag, leaving you with a creamy drink similar to regular cows milk.
I’ve been drinking hemp milk as an adult for quite awhile now and I enjoy the nutritional aspect of it over all other nut based milks. Hemp milk is free from lactose, making it perfect for anyone with milk allergies but it also has the perfect balance of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids.
Because hemp milk is made from hemp seeds, you gain all the benefits of the seed including high protein content, 10 essential amino acids, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D and more. Hemp milk is also an excellent source of magnesium which aids in the healthy function of your muscles and nerves as well as keeping your sugar levels and blood pressure under control.
Almond milk is a great nut based milk for several reasons. Almonds are a great source of magnesium which helps in the health of your bones (remember it’s not all about calcium). It also has plenty of Vitamin E which helps to protect our cell membranes and you’ll also find selenium which is great for our immune system and it also helps those of us with thyroid conditions.
Almond milk is also very well rounded with nutrients including unsaturated fats, protein (thought not nearly as much as cow’s milk), potassium and depending on how it’s manufactured, contains less sugar than most popular soy milks.
Grain milk is yet another milk alternative that is made from fermented grains such as oats, spelt, rice, rye, wheat or quinoa. Grain milks are very low in fat and are completely lactose free.
Oat milk is high in fiber and is cholesterol free as well. It contains a variety of minerals and vitamins including manganese, potassium, Vitamins A, E and B, iron, selenium and more. If you’re wondering about calcium, oat milk contains more calcium in one single serving than cow’s milk does.
It has a light, sweet taste that substitutes easily for regular cow’s milk. Because it’s fat free it is also a great milk to help you keep those pounds in check.
Rice milk is very low in fat but also has very low nutritional value overall unless you purchase a rice milk that is fortified with vitamins.
However, there is a big red flag you should be aware of. On cartons of rice milk you may see a warning that recommends you not give rice milk to children under the age of 5 without consulting a doctor.
The warning isn’t there because of it’s low nutritional value. The warning is there because of trace amounts of arsenic that is found in rice drinks. How scary is that? There are apparently organic versions that are supposed to be arsenic free, but that increases expense and it’s still not something I’m comfortable with.
Our Choice for a Cow’s Milk Alternative
Everyone needs to do their own research and make the decision for themselves, but as for us, we wanted to make a combined decision based on what we felt had the best nutritional value for our daughter but also one that she loved the taste of. Since she loves cow’s milk so much still I don’t want to take away something that she enjoys with nothing to replace it with.
We decided to conduct an experiement and let her try three milks we were considering: hemp milk, soy milk and almond milk. We knew where our heart was at on the nutrition side but none of that mattered if she refused to drink it.
When it came to the hemp milk, she didn’t hate it, but I didn’t feel she really loved it either. She could pretty much take it or leave it.
The soy milk was probably her favorite as far as taste goes. She loved how sweet it was and actually came to me for a second cup of it.
Almond milk was her second favorite, loving it almost as much as the soy milk. I got “mmmhhhh’s” from both of those milks.
Taking her taste choice into consideration and our decisions on health benefits, we have decided that hemp milk and almond milk are the most nutritious milk alternative to cow’s milk and the ones that our family liked the taste of the most. Additionally, both of these are also milks I can easily make at home and give her options for various flavors.
While she preferred the taste of soy milk over the other two, we decided that the possible risks associated with soy products just wasn’t worth the taste or health benefits. Because she eats a very healthy and vitamin rich diet, we feel confident in our decision.
As a hemp milk drinker myself I know full well the health benefits of hemp milk and it’s something I have come to know and trust. The taste however is a bit “earthier” and not as sweet as my daughter is used so it’s something I will be mainly using for cooking and in smoothies.
The almond milk will be more for her when she wants to drink milk, have it in smoothies or have it in cereal. Almond milk is quite a bit sweeter and by her taste tests much more suited for a child’s taste buds.
Cow’s milk may have been the “it” thing 20 years ago, but it’s a pop culture myth to think it’s the only away to get your daily recommended allowances of calcium and vitamin D. If you make the right food choices for yourself and your children, you can choose any of the above mentioned milks as an alternative to cow’s milk that is healther and tastier.
Just remember, what we give our children will stay with them for a lifetime. Teach them good habits now and when they become adults and say “I’m fine” they can actually mean it.