Welcome to part 2 of my blog, “Do we really have to give our babies cow milk?” that released a few weeks ago that addressed my thoughts on cows milk and what might be a better solution if you want to stick with mammal milk.
Part 2 is to address the questions that came in asking, “What about non-dairy milk alternatives?“
The biggest nutrition concerns most have regarding the “need” to continue milk past 12 months of age, are how to maintain fat, calcium and protein needs within their child. Most people believe you attain those needs through animal milk, like cow, goat or sheep. But does it really have to come from those animals, or can we substitute it for a non-dairy alternative like nut, coconut, oat, plant or hemp milk?
Yes, I believe we can for numerous reasons, one being to prevent lactose allergies that could occur certainly in cows milk, but maybe even in goat or sheep milk depending on the bio-individuality of each child.
There are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to these non-dairy milks, but today I’ll focus on 2 important factors:
(1) nutritional needs and (2) ingredients
The top concerns most people have in keeping milk in a child’s diet is the desire to continue providing FAT, PROTEIN and CALCIUM.
*While this is considered the norm, we are able to attain these nutrients through whole foods, like: avocados, dark leafy greens, hemp heart seeds, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, gluten-free oats, beans, and many other foods that still provide the same amount of quality fats, proteins and calcium should you want to nourish with foods instead of relying solely on milk at the appropriate age.
FAT = almond, cashew, oat and then hemp milk contains the highest amount (7-10 grams depending on brand) per 1 cup serving.
PROTEIN= plant/pea protein and almond milk contain the highest amount (3-8 grams depending on brand) per 1 cup serving.
CALCIUM= plant/pea protein and oat milk contain the highest amount (245mg-595mg depending on brand) per 1 cup serving.
As you can see Almond, plant/pea protein, oat and cashew milk are the top contenders when it comes to nutritional value.
*I did not compare RICE or SOY milk for a few reasons. (1) I do not recommend either of these options as rice milk tends to be higher in sugar (in most store-bought brands) and contains ingredients like canola oil which is toxic, and processed. (2) Soy is a phytoestrogen and infants are more likely to be vulnerable to the estrogen-like effects of the phytoestrogens in soy. Soy is also often times a gmo (genetically modified), so I recommend avoiding all potential gmo’s in our diet.
What about ingredients?
This is one of the most important areas I focus on with my nutrition clients, as well as educating the public. INGREDIENTS are the #1 thing we need to be focusing on. This is why I began the original blog discussing benefits of goat and sheep milk first, as they often don’t include inflammatory and processed ingredients to the milk.
Non-dairy milk alternatives are typically known for adding ingredients like carrageenan, inflammatory seed oils, binders, fillers and gum thickeners depending on the brand of milk.
In most brands of non-dairy milk, we could be doing more harm by drinking ingredients that are harmful to our gut, immune system and affect blood sugar and insulin levels.
Common ingredients listed in most non-dairy milk products:
Carrageenan: seaweed substance used to thicken or emulsify to create longer shelf life and attain a smooth texture. It’s highly inflammatory and toxic to the digestive tract, some studies show it could be connected to colitis, IBS, rheumatoid arthritis, and even colon cancer.
Acacia gum: a stabilizer, emulsifier, thickening and binding agent. Found in icing, soft candy, fillings and sweeteners. Can create abdominal bloating, gas, inflammation and stomach irritation in some people, not all.
Gellan gum: viscous soluble fiber artificially produced by a bacteria from lactose or glucose, corn starch. Can create abdominal bloating, gas, inflammation and stomach irritation in some people, not all.
Guar gum: an additive created from fiber of a guar plant seed. Large amounts can be harmful and create side effects that act like a laxative. It’s used to prevent hardening of arteries, and used in milks to create smooth texture.
Locus bean gum: thickening agent derived from plant seed of locust tree that emulsifies and stabilizes a product. An additive that can create stomach irritation in some, but might be less than all other “gums.”
Sunflower oil: an emollient oil pressed from seed and used in frying oils, and also found in cosmetics. A high omega 6 oil that can be inflammatory within the body and increase fasting insulin and blood sugar levels in excessive amounts. (This is why we have to limit oils like this as an imbalance of proper omega 3’s to omega 6’s can create a “rancid” effect within the body.)
Sunflower lechithin: rich in choline and other essential fatty acids such as phosphatidylinositol. I don’t see many red flags with this one.
Cane sugar: extracted from sugarcane plant, is not refined, and somewhat less processed that white sucrose sugar. It still retains some of the molasses and moisture from the plant so some refer to it as a more “raw” form of sugar. However, any added sugar in a child’s diet should be limited, and is a concern for some parents that wouldn’t want to add this as a daily part of their child’s diet.
Tapioca starch: a starchy flour derived from a cassava plant/root to act as a thickener.
Natural flavors: a term used in almost every food and beverage you will find on grocery store shelves. The FDA approves up to 100+ unknown ingredients to be included within the “natural flavors” term. This is one to avoid if possible, but it is challenging to find products that do not contain it.
With all the different milk brands out there, how do we know which ones are best?
My top 8 choices below were selected based on nutritional value AND quality of ingredients:
*They did not contain “natural flavors,” and had either none, or just 1 type of gum or high omega 6 oil ingredient.
- If you prefer to make your own, I recommend this homemade recipe.
- Malk organic cold-pressed almond milk (it’s also glyphosate-free!)
- Mooala organic almond milk
- Califia organic almond homestyle milk (small bottle, so it goes fast)
- Forager project almond or cashew milk
- Califia organic cashew homestyle milk (small bottle, so it goes fast)
- New Barn organic almond milk
- Califia Oat unsweetened milk
*Other milk brands I researched were: Califia Ubermilk, Good Karma flax milk, Ripple pea protein milk, Silk, Blue Diamond Almond Breeze, Living Harvest hemp milk, Milkadamia nut milk.
They were not included in my top choices due to: numerous gum/stabilizers or inflammatory oils, added cane sugar, natural flavors, and carrageenan… but you choose your preference and make an informed decision.
However you choose to raise your little ones, know that you have options and choices in how you continue to nourish their precious little bodies!
-Lindsay, Certified Holistic Nutritionist