Plant-based milk for children – is it safe?

I recently (virtually) attended the Food as Medicine Update conference hosted by the school of medicine at the University of Toronto. I thought I’d pass along some fun medical facts that I learned.

Breast milk is preferred until 12 months of age. (That’s nothing new.)

milk in a heart cupOnly whole cow milk or infant formula are recommended for children between 1 and 2 years of age. (Soy milk has similar fat content to 2% milk and whole cow milk with a fat content of 3.25% is recommended, so that’s why soy-based formulas are preferred over soy milk for 1-2 year olds.

For children older than 2 years of age with cow milk allergy or for families who prefer a plant-based milk, fortified soy milk is the only plant-based milk that is recommended. Almond, rice, coconut, hemp, flax seed and cashew “milks” cannot replace cow milk because they do not meet a child’s nutritional requirements and may compromise growth. Who knew? You’d think they’d all be fortified with additional nutrients to simulate cow milk, but that’s not the case. Cow milk is the only milk that is legislated to provide roughly 104 IU of vitamin D per cup.

For parents concerned about hormones or antibiotics in cow milk, know that it is illegal in Canada. Dairy cows are not permitted to receive exogenous hormones or antibiotics outside of illness. It is closely regulated. (Not so much in the USA so it’s more of a concern there.)