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Children Under 5 Should Avoid Plant-Based Milk, Health Experts Say

In new health guidelines published Wednesday, health experts say children under 5 should avoid plant-based milk. They argue drinks like oat and soy milk, to name a few examples, don't contain the proper amount of nutrients young kids need to thrive. The findings are a big deal because they mark the first-ever consensus on recommendations for young children.

The new recommendations were put together by a panel of experts from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Heart Association, according to The New York Times. Healthy Drinks, Healthy Kids, a project of Healthy Eating Research, outlined the experts' guidelines, providing parents with recommendations for each age group up to 5.

In a nutshell, health experts advise parents to forgo plant-based milks like oat, almond, soy, and rice in the early stages of their child's life because these products lack key nutrients (like Vitamin D and Calcium), which are linked to early development, according to CNN.

"In the last five to 10 years there has been an explosion of interest in plant-based milk. More and more parents are turning to them for a variety of reasons and there's a misconception that they are equal somehow to cow or dairy milk, but that's just not the case," Megan Lott, deputy director of Health Eating Research and co-author of the new guidelines, said, according to CNN.

The only exception, the guidelines stipulate, are for those children who have milk allergies.

The new guidelines for a child's daily milk intake are, according to Healthy Eating Research:

  • Infants less than 12 months old should only drink formula or breast milk.
  • Children 12 to 24 months old can be introduced to plain, pasteurized whole cow’s milk, about two to three cups a day.
  • At 2 years of age, children should transition to plain, pasteurized fat-free or low-fat milk. The recommended amount is two cups a day for children ages 2 to 3.
  • Children 4 to 5 years old should drink plain, pasteurized fat-free or low-fat milk. The recommended amount is up to two and a half cups a day.

Additionally, the guidelines recommend parents should limit juice drinks. "We really stress that consuming fresh fruits is much, much preferred over consuming fruit juice, but we understand that sometimes parents are in a tight spot and maybe fresh fruit is not available in certain situations," Marie-Pierre St-Onge, professor of nutritional medicine at Columbia University and one of the experts, explained, according to U.S. News & World Report.

But it's worth pointing out not all pediatricians agree that milk is an essential part of a child's diet.

“While milk can be nutritious, it isn’t absolutely necessary for a healthy diet," Claire McCarthy, MD, FAAP said, according to Healthy Children. "Other dairy products, such as cheese and yogurt, can provide the same nutrients, as can 'alterna-milks' such as soy milk or almond milk, although you should talk to a pediatrician before you switch to one of those.”

Of course, what works for one child may not work for another. And if any questions arise, your family's pediatrician should be your first source for information.