17 May What is the Best Plant Milk for Children?
There is a growing trend towards plant based milks, with the market expected to exceed USD 34 Billion by 2024. This is caused by health conscience and compassionate consumers opting for vegan and plant based diets, but the report also claims lactose intolerance is a key factor, saying: “Roughly two thirds of the world’s adult populations are lactose-intolerant” (no kidding, we are not baby cows!).
It must be noted first that of course breast milk is best for a growing baby or toddler, and plant based milk should never be used as a substitute for breast milk or formula before the baby has turned at least one year old. Once your baby starts weaning from breast milk or formula, you can offer drinking water, along with a healthy variety of solid food and plant based milk as a substitute with breakfast foods, hot drinks etc. If possible, keep up the breastfeeding as well – the World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding to age 2 and beyond!
So which plant based milk is best for your child and what is the difference?
A recent article from Raise Vegan gives a good overview of plant based milks on the market….
Cashew: A thick and creamy milk that is high in vitamin E and healthy fats.
Hemp: is high in omega 3’s which is key for children, it is also is very easy on little digestive systems.
Coconut: has lots of calories and healthy fats, packed with fiber and B vitamins.
Rice: best suited for those with allergies, fortified with great vitamins but often has lots of sugar. Also opt for organic rice milk as unorganic rice products have been known to have trace amounts of arsenic.
Soy: one of the highest protein contents, and also is often fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
Oat: a creamy milk with a high amount of natural fiber, iron and calcium and also low in fat.
Almond: low in calories but rich in good fats with a variety of vitamins such as calcium and vitamin A.
Flax: made with flaxseed oil, it is very creamy, high in fat and omega 3’s.
Pea: one of the highest protein contents and rich in iron, omega 3’s, calcium and vitamin D.
My favourite plant milks for kids would be almond, cashew, and oat although my eldest loves soy. Hemp sounds like the most nutritious, if you can find it. As for the ‘best’, it’s all about personal preference and what the needs of your child are. I also like to mix it up with my kids, by always having a selection of different milks to choose from and making sure they are not always drinking just one type.
But before you stock up on a selection of plant based milks, learn about the ingredients in each option:
Plant based milk ingredients
Sugar: Most plant milks sold in the store have incredible amounts of sugar in them, be sure to purchase the ‘plain/unsweetened’ versions.
Vegetable Oils: Generally harvested from heavily sprayed GMO corn and soy plants, and are simply meant to add texture to the plant milk but are not good for our bodies, avoid if possible.
Added vitamins: Many plant based milks have added calcium, protein and B12 which is an easy way for your children to get these essential nutrients.
There will be additional ingredients depending on what brand you choose, so don’t skip reading the label! Then, once you have a handful of brands/products you trust, shopping will be fast and easy.
DIY Plant Milk Recipe
The downside to plant based milks is that many of them come in tetra packs and not all communities recycle them. If you want to live a low or zero waste lifestyle, and also avoid additives, it might be best to make your own plant milk at home using organic products and only adding in the ingredients of your choice.
- 1 cup of nuts and/or seeds soaked overnight (almond, cashews etc)
- 4 cups of filtered water
- 2-3 dates or some maple syrup (optional)
- Pinch of cinnamon (optional)
Rinse the pre-soaked nuts/seeds and place into a blender with all of the other ingredients. Blend on high for roughly 1 minute. Strain using a nut milk bag or fine mesh strainer. Store in the fridge for 3-5 days.
But don’t we need dairy products to get calcium?
Many of us have been indoctrinated to believe that we must consume dairy products to obtain calcium and protein, but this it is simply not true. The Dairy industry spends a lot of money marketing this myth to consumers, which is reinforced from what our parents were taught too. Such nutrients are easily obtainable on a plant based diet, and plant based milks often contain plenty of these nutrients anyway. Vegan guru Plant Proof explains:
When it comes to feeding infants a vegan diet, there is quite a bit of confusion and uncertainty… and rightly so because traditionally, plant-based nutrition has not been a real topic of focus for medical professionals. It makes sense that most paediatricians teach and advise on what they were taught, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that such advice provides the only or best way to feed your baby (much of the curriculum at Medical school has been influenced by industries with agendas and quite frankly, even if this was not the case, they just don’t teach enough hours). As a result, many doctors stick to what they know… medicine. Unfortunately, such doctors cannot see the real medicine staring them in the face… proper nutrition. Fortunately, times are changing and doctors like Dr. Neal Barnard, Dr. Michael Greger, Dr. Michelle McMacken and Dr. Garth Davis are leading the way.
Historically it was thought that a vegan diet was not a sufficient source of nutrition for adequate development and growth during the infant period (0-2 years) where there is a lot of cell proliferation and maturation of vital organs and systems, however we now know a well balanced vegan diet is perfectly fine for an infant from birth. In an article published in the Journal of American Dietetic Association Messina et al concluded:
Diets of vegan children meet or exceed recommendations for most nutrients, and vegan children have higher intakes of fiber and lower intakes of total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol than omnivore children (2016)
In addition to fortified plant milks, calcium can also be obtained from leafy greens, nuts, chia seeds, sesame seeds, beans, tofu, tempeh, edamame, molasses, broccoli, blackberries, oranges, figs fortified cereals and many more plant based sources.
By opting for plant milks, we can also avoid the negative effects of dairy – on our children’s health, on the environment, and of course by lessening demand for the exploition and slaughter of dairy calves and their babies. Cows milk is for baby cow’s and human & plant milk is for humans, it’s as simple as that.
Which plant milk is your favourite?