Young Children Need Cow’s Milk, Not Plant-Based Beverages
We break down the recently issued guidelines from health organizations on appropriate beverages for kids from birth through age 5.
What children drink between birth through five years old has a big impact on their health, according to a new set of beverage guidelines from health experts. That is why they recommend real cow’s milk, along with water, as children’s main beverage starting at 12 months old. We break down what the guidelines are and what they mean below.
Question: My child’s doctor already gives me information on healthy eating. What’s new about these guidelines?
Answer: Well, it’s not so much making “new” recommendations as it is about everyone being on the same page. Before these guidelines were published, pediatric health organizations each had their own set of recommendations, so the various age groups and types of beverages discussed were inconsistent among organizations.
Q: Which organizations were involved in the guidelines?
A: Let’s just say we’ve got some heavy hitters here. A panel of experts from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Heart Association developed the Healthy Drinks, Healthy Kids beverage guidelines.
Q: And what do the health experts recommend?
A: The guidelines provide recommendations by age that can help set kids on a path to healthy growth and development.
- 0-6 six months old: Only breastmilk or formula needed for fluids and nutrition
- 6-12 months: Sips of water can be introduced along with solid foods
- 12-24 months: Pasteurized whole milk can be introduced; children should continue drinking water; limit 100% fruit juice to no more than a ½ cup a day
- 2-3 years old: Change from whole milk to low-fat or nonfat milk; water and juice recommendations remain the same as 12-24 months
- 4-5 years old: Water and milk recommendations remain the same; limit 100% fruit juice to no more than ½ – ¾ cup a day
Q: You mentioned the experts recommend my child drink cow’s milk and water. Why not any non-dairy milks?
A: The experts agree that plant based beverages do not provide the same nutrition as cow’s milk. While plant based beverages, such as almond or oat milk, are popular, these drinks lack the nutrition found in cow’s milk. An eight-ounce glass of cow’s milk has nine essential nutrients, including calcium, vitamins A and D, B vitamins and protein.
Plant based beverages may be fortified with some of these nutrients, but health experts don’t know if the body can use them as well as the nutrients found naturally in cow’s milk. Plant based beverages may also contain added sugar, which unflavored cow’s milk does not.
Q: OK, but if my child is allergic to cow’s milk?
A: The exception is fortified soymilk, which may be fitting if a child has a cow’s milk allergy or intolerance. However, parents should talk with a doctor or dietitian to make sure the child is getting enough of the nutrients found in cow’s milk from other foods.
Q: Is there anything else I need to know?
A: Along with plant-based beverages, the experts recommend limiting sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soft drinks, fruit drinks and sports drinks; caffeinated drinks; flavored milk and toddler milk; and beverages with low-calorie sweeteners.
While the guidelines don’t recommend flavored milk for children younger than five, flavored milk, such as chocolate and strawberry, does provide the same nine essential nutrients as plain cow’s milk with a small amount of added sugar. Drinking flavored milk, like chocolate milk, may help children over five improve their diet quality and meet recommended daily servings of dairy.