The minefield of milks

Children need over 40 different nutrients every single day of the week in order to achieve a balanced diet for healthy growth and development. Our very young children, babies and toddlers under 2 rely on milk to provide a great deal of these nutrients, and throughout childhood milk plays a significant role. Even our teens benefit from a significant milk consumption in order to fuel their body’s for rapid growth.

But there are so many different versions of milks and milk alternative products in the supermarket these days that it can be difficult to know which one is best for your child and which one you should purchase.

Choice of milk is an important decision and can be a personal one too. There may be a medical reason such as an allergy, which means that you have to avoid cows milk for your child. You may have a cultural belief such as veganism. This blog is intended to help you understand some of the more popular milks on the market and assist you in making the right choice for your family.

Cows milk

Of all of the available products, cows milk is the cheapest. It has the most preferred taste and flavour and offers the best nutritional profile. Babies and toddlers up to the age of 2 need a high fat diet to provide enough energy for body and brain growth and whole (or full cream) milk can help supply this. At this age our little ones rely quite a bit on liquids for nutrition as their tummies are so small, they can only manage small portions of food. Whole milk is the one with the blue top, it contains a great amount of protein, the right amount of fat and ample calcium. Some brands are also fortified with vitamin D, which works with calcium and is essential for bone health.

Semi-skimmed (green top) is a good option for children over two who are growing well and are eating a healthy balanced diet, however if your child is on the fussier side, you can stick with whole milk for a little longer.

1% (orange top) and skimmed milk (green top) which is 0% fat, are great for over 5’s if you have a family history of heart disease, diabetes or high cholesterol and you want to reduce the levels of saturated fats in your families diet.

No matter which of these you opt for, the cost is as little as £0.48/litre.

Soya Milk

If you are considering choosing soya milk because you suspect your child has an allergy to cows milk, be aware that 40% of cows milk allergic children are also allergic to soya. Soya milk is actually very low in calories; it provides similar calories to skimmed milk. The amount of protein is good and most are fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Some soya milks – in particular the flavoured varieties – contain added sugar, so be careful to check the food label. If you choose soya milk for your child, you need to be mindful of making up the calories elsewhere in your child’s diet otherwise they wont get the energy they need for healthy growth and development of their body and brain.

Oat milk

Oat milk is very low in calories in a similar way to skimmed milk, it is also very low in fat and protein too and so is not a good choice of milk for a young child. Some also have added sugar. Studies have show that children in the USA who were given oat milk resulted in growth failure and so its not one I’d recommend for young children. It is fortified with calcium to the same level as cows milk and does have vitamin D added and so could be a good substitute for an adult to drink. However it’s expensive at £1.40/litre.

Rice milk

Rice and rice products have featured in the news recently with regards to their arsenic content. As a result rice milk is not recommended for babies and young children under the age of 5. Nutritionally its profile is similar to oat milk, and so isn’t a great option anyway. It also comes in at around £1.40/litre.

Nut milks and Flax milk

Nut milks such as almond milk or cashew milk are surprising very poor from a nutritional point of view. Despite nuts being high in protein and healthy fats, none of this filters through into the milk. Nutritionally they contain less calories than skimmed milk with less than half a gram of protein per 100ml. They are also very low in fat. Flax milk is virtually identical from a nutritional perspective. Again not a good choice for children, unless you are able to drastically change the rest of their diet to compensate under the guidance of a dietitian. Most brands are supplemented with calcium and vitamin D too. Nut milks come in at £1.80/litre. And flax milk is the most expensive at £1.99/litre.

Hemp milk

Hemp milk is produced from the cannabis plant, but rest assured it comes from a different part of the plant, so none of the marijuana comes through into the milk! It’s low in calories, low in protein and lower in fat than cows milk, but the fat level is not as low as the other grain based milks mentioned. Again it’s fortified with calcium and vitamin D and could be part of a child’s diet who was under the supervision of a dietitian to ensure that the missing nutrients are made up elsewhere. It’s not readily available in all supermarkets but can be bought in health food shops and online and retails at £1.50/litre.

Coconut milk

This product is very popular at the moment. It’s made from soaking the coconut milk in hot water with the cream skimmed off. Nutritionally it has a similar fat content to whole cows milk but is lower in calories and very low in protein so not suitable for a child under 2 who’s brain is rapidly developing. This retails at 1.80/litre.

Milk allergy

If your child has a milk allergy, arrange to see a dietitian either via the NHS or see me privately. We are able to guide you on the best choice of milk for your child’s age and developmental stage. I offer virtual and face to face consultations.

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