Plant-based milk consumption is gaining more and more popularity, and many parents are deciding to include it in their children's diets. But are there any benefits of drinking plant-based milk over cow's milk?
What is Plant-Based Milk?
Plant-based milk is a beverage made from grains, legumes, seeds, or nuts to substitute cow milk. Drinking a non-dairy alternative may look trendy, but the truth is that they have been consumed for centuries as a healthy alternative to milk.
People also refer to them as plant milk, alternative milk, non-dairy milk, plant-based alternative, or vegan milk.
Reasons Why a Child Would Drink a Plant-Based Milk
There are many reasons to switch to dairy-free milk. Whether for health issues (allergies or intolerance), ethical beliefs, environmental concerns, or simply taste preferences.
We have always believed that cow's milk is essential for the growth of children over one year of age since it provides the amount of calcium that their bones need to grow.
And I will not deny that cow's milk is, nutritionally, a complete food. But the truth is that it is easy to replace the nutrients in milk with other food sources. I am talking about calcium, vitamin D and protein.
For this reason, plant-based milks are a fantastic alternative and are a positive change for your child's diet.
It's important to mention that not all plant-based alternatives are suitable for children, toddlers especially. (Learn more here)
Let's Talk About Benefits
If you are considering switching your little one's milk, here are 5 benefits of choosing a milk alternative:
1. No hormones
All milk naturally contains small amounts of various hormones, especially estrogen, that cows produce during pregnancy and lactation. Cows raised on dairy farms are constantly pregnant, which can cause high estrogen levels in their milk. Although not in all cases, hormones and steroids are given to some cows to help improve milk production.
A considerable number of studies indicate that hormones in dairy could impact our health as they can increase the risk of breast, prostate, and endometrial cancer. This risk is worth considering as children start drinking milk very young and continue to do so for many years.
This is still a controversial topic, and more scientific data is needed.
2. Easy to digest
The primary natural sugar (carbohydrate) in cow's milk is lactose. Many children suffer from lactose intolerance which causes discomfort, inflammation, gas, and other digestive issues. Infants and a lot of toddlers do not have a fully mature digestive system which causes these unpleasant symptoms after eating or drinking dairy products.
Plant-based milks are lactose-free, which make them an excellent option for these kids.
If your child does not have lactose intolerance but does have a sensitive tummy, constipation, or a slow digestive system, drinking dairy-free milk could help a lot.
3. Low cholesterol
Most plant-based milks are low in cholesterol (some of them are 100% cholesterol free).
Fat is an essential nutrient for children, especially for toddlers. Fat should make up 30-40% of their diet at this stage.
However, it is important to ensure that we offer a good combination of healthy fats.
Whole milk is high in saturated fat and cholesterol; these are considered "unhealthy" as they are linked to heart disease and other chronic diseases.
Most of the legumes, seeds and nuts used in the production of plant milks have a healthy combination of mono- and polyunsaturated fats. However, you need to be very careful because many brands are low-fat and, as I mentioned earlier, fat is key to supporting your child's optimal growth and development.
You can learn more about this here.
4. Allergen-free (except for nut milk)
Cow's milk protein allergy is the main medical reason parents are looking for a healthy milk substitute for their children, as they do not contain the protein that causes this allergy.
Most milk alternatives are allergen-free; however, if your child has other food allergies or sensitivity or has a family history of allergies, I recommend always checking the ingredient list and talking to your healthcare provider to be sure it is safe for your little one.
5. Plant-based milks are environmentally friendly
There is no doubt that all we do affects climate change; this includes the way we eat. Fortunately, following a plant-based diet, including drinking non-dairy milk, can significantly and positively impact the environment.
Dairy farms require a large space to allow cows to graze. Unfortunately, that space and the foods they eat often drive deforestation, consumes a lot of land, and affect climate change. Compared to the land cows need, plants used to produce milk alternatives require less land and hence have a lighter impact.
Consume significantly less water
Plant-based milk requires almost half (or less) the water needed to make the equivalent amount of cow's milk on dairy farms. Also, dairy production causes water pollution as liquid waste and sewage can pollute waterways such as rivers and creeks.
For these reasons, drinking a milk alternative helps to conserve a significant amount of water.
Produce fewer emissions
Climate change is caused by increased greenhouse gases (GHGs) concentrations in the atmosphere. Gases that trap heat in the atmosphere are called GHGs.
The cows in dairy farms are responsible for a high amount of the world's overall greenhouse gas emissions. Although there is increasing awareness of this issue and measures are being taken to improve this data, this is still a concern.
The legumes, seeds, grains, and nuts used to elaborate milk alternatives produce much fewer GHGs. Therefore, consuming plant-based milk helps reduce our carbon footprint.
Extra point - Plant-based milks are suitable for all eating styles
No matter what eating style your family has, there is a plant milk that can meet your needs.
But if your family follows a plant-based, vegetarian, or vegan diet, I'm sure you have explored a variety of non-dairy milks. Fortunately, they're becoming more available, and you can find many options in the market. Just be sure to choose a plant-based milk alternative suitable for children. (Learn how here)
If you live in Canada, here is an excellent option for you to try:
Plant Baby is an organic plant-based beverage especially designed for toddlers.
A nutritious and delicious plant-based drink made with natural ingredients and specially designed to meet the growing needs of children under 4 years.
🧁 Only Naturally Occurring Sugar
Always talk to your healthcare provider if you have questions.
Dietitian & New Mom
Bachelor's degree in Nutrition
Master's degree in Food & Dietetics
Health Coach Certification