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  • Are Soy And Almond Milk Healthy Alternatives To Cow's Milk For Toddlers?

    They are popular with adults, but will they meet the nutritional needs of toddlers?
    by Kitty Elicay .
Are Soy And Almond Milk Healthy Alternatives To Cow's Milk For Toddlers?
PHOTO BY iStock
  • At age 1, your baby’s nutritional needs are no longer dependent solely on breast milk because she’ll be eating solid food by then. Starting from this age, incorporating dairy in your child’s diet is important to help them meet their caloric needs for growth, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and HealthyChildren.org.

    "Children ages 1 to 2 need whole fat milk," says Dr. Faith Buenaventura-Alcazaren, a pediatric specialist at Stratum Health Partners in Centuria Medical Makati. "At age 2 to 3 years old, children should receive increased proportion of low-fat foods in their diet. The reason behind this recommendation is the increased need for dietary fats in the toddler years for brain development."

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    Between 2 and 3 years old, children should consume 2.5 servings (or cups) of dairy per day. The AAP recommends whole cow’s milk, but what if your toddler is lactose intolerant, is allergic to cow’s milk, or simply “rejects” this kind of milk? Would plant-based milk like soy or almond be safe for kids?

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    According to new recommendations by the AAP, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Academy of Pediatric Dentists, and the American Heart Association, fortified soy milk is the only plant-based milk recognized as an acceptable substitute for dairy milk. But if your child is allergic to dairy or cow’s milk, lactose intolerant or observing certain religious rules or a vegan diet at home, unsweetened and fortified plant-based milk may be used. Just make sure to consult with a doctor to find out which milk substitute you can use.

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    Plant-based milk for toddlers

    Soy milk is made from cooked soybeans. It is not actually milk. It is rich in protein, iron, vitamin D, E, and K, thiamine, riboflavin, and folate. It does not contain lactose, which is why it’s safe for toddlers who are lactose intolerant. It is also low in fat and cholesterol.

    According to What To Expect, it is important that you work with your child’s doctor or pediatrician to identify whether you should add other calcium-rich food like green, leafy vegetables, salmon, yogurt, cheese, and fortified cereals while giving your child soy milk. That’s because some soy milks contain natural compounds called phytates, which can interfere with your child’s ability to absorb calcium. So, if the label on the container of fortified soy milk says that an 8-ounce glass contains 200 to 300 mg of calcium, the phytates can prevent your child from absorbing the full amount, says BabyCenter.

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    If your toddler is allergic to soy and cow’s milk, or is lactose intolerant, almond is another popular type of plant-based milk. It is made by soaking almonds in water and grinding them to produce a milky white liquid that is then strained. It contains protein, fat, calcium, potassium, and vitamin D.

    Just like soy milk, kids who are given almond milk should also be given calcium-rich food. Experts believe that our bodies may not absorb nutrients from plants as well as they can from dairy products, according to What to Expect.

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    "There are differences in the caloric and nutritional content between cow's milk and cow's milk alternatives, which parents should be aware of so they can supplement in other foods and their child meets their dairy requirements," says Dr. Buenaventura-Alcazaren. "Make sure they get their dietary fats, calcium, and vitamin D3 in other sources since milk alternatives may have lower content of these nutrients.

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    She reiterates that for toddlers in general, milk should not be the only source of nutrition. "Dairy should only be given as 2 to 2.5 servings per day (a maximum of 24 ounces of milk per day). It should be emphasized that they need to consume a wide variety of foods that will provide them with their daily caloric and nutritional requirement."

    The Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) of the Department of Science and Technology developed “Pinggang Pinoy” or food recommendations for every age group. Click here for correct food portion sizes for your 3-year-old.

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