Walk down the aisle at any grocery store and you will see dozens of different types of white beverages, labeled “Milk”.
It can be downright confusing for parents and consumers. As a pediatrician, this is something I talk to parents about in my office everyday. After all, I need to make sure that my patients get the proper nutrients needed during their growing years for both their brain and body. This is the reason I support the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations to the FDA to reserve the label of “milk” solely for traditional dairy products, to help consumers make informed decisions for their family’s nutrition.
The fact is, the nutrients in many non-dairy milk alternatives, like almond milk, soymilk and coconut milk, are not the same as cow’s milk – so it’s really important that the labels are clear. Consumer confusion on the labeling of non-dairy milk beverages could be one of the reasons that many kids aren’t getting enough of the essential nutrients dairy milk provides, like protein, calcium, vitamin D and potassium in their diet. Parents often assume that because it’s labeled as “Milk,” by definition, it must be a nutrient rich beverage with the same nutrient profile as real dairy milk, but that’s not necessarily the case in the United States. In fact, a dairy-free diet could have serious health implications – especially for kids.
Non-dairy milk alternatives vary in their nutritional profiles and their nutritional impact has not been thoroughly studied, so it’s important for moms to understand there are key differences between the beverages. With 8 grams of protein in every 8-ounce glass, dairy milk has eight times more protein than most almond and rice milks, which only have one gram of protein. Dairy milk is also the top food source for calcium, vitamin D and potassium (three of the four nutrients of public health concern), and more than half of kids ages 9 and up are falling short on these key nutrients they need to grow strong. And the fact is, research shows it’s really hard for kids to get enough of these nutrients without milk. Substituting with non-dairy calcium sources like fortified milk alternatives and juices or greens can lead to gaps in other key nutrients, like protein and B12.
Whether moms are simply not serving enough milk, or swapping in water or non-dairy milk alternatives, the fact of the matter is that most Americans, including kids, fall short on the recommended three daily servings of real milk and real milk products for kids ages 9 and up. Milk has always been a childhood staple. The great thing about milk is that kids already love it. It’s not a battle to get them to drink it like so many foods can be. I recommend including milk in kids’ diets, and many experts, from the American Academy of Pediatrics, to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, do too. I don’t want it to be my patient or my own kids who are missing out on nutrients they need