Reently, plant-based milk and drinks have been gaining in popularity. This is due not only to a conscious choice in favor of a vegetarian diet. Unfortunately, babies often have allergies or intolerance to cow’s milk protein, and plant-based milk seems to parents to be a kind of substitute for dairy products.

Soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, coconut milk, and hemp milk is most commonly used as a substitute for cow or goat milk. When added to milk sweeteners or vegetable oils, herbal drinks are obtained.

Vegetable milk fortified with calcium and vitamin B 12 , can serve as a good source of these substances. However, even with such enrichment, it cannot be called a complete nutritional equivalent of animal milk.

Soy milk is closest to cow’s milk. Soy drinks are prepared by squeezing an extract (milk) from soaked soybeans. Compared to cow’s milk, soy drinks contain:

– 3 times more fiber;

– 10 times more iron;

– 10 times more copper;

– 2 times more niacin;

– plant-based nutrients that reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer;

– less fat;

– less saturated fat;

– 20% less protein;

– less carbohydrates in ox;

– 75% less sodium;

– 5 times less vitamin A;

– 2 times less zinc;

– 3 times less folate;

– only 3% calcium (10 mg versus 300 mg in one glass of milk);

– do not contain vitamin B 12 ;

– do not contain cholesterol;

– do not contain lactose, which is essential for people intolerant of it.

Unfortunately, soy cross-allergy has become increasingly common in babies allergic to cow’s milk protein lately. Accordingly, this milk is not suitable for everyone.

Hemp milk is the next closest in composition to cow’s milk. It has about the same amount of fats and carbohydrates, but half as much protein. It is difficult to find ready-made hemp milk on sale in Russia, but you can find many resources with recipes for its preparation.

Coconut milk contains more fat and fiber, but less carbohydrates and protein compared to cow’s milk.

Rice and almond milk are the most distant relatives of cow’s milk. They contain mainly carbohydrates, proteins and fats to a minimum.

Recently, oat milk has been gaining popularity. It is also low in protein, high in carbohydrates. The fat content is low, but you can find drinks with high fat content on sale.

Actually, the main complaint about vegetable milk in children’s nutrition is its low calorie content. In general, vegetarian meals are low in fat. At the same time, with a small stomach and high energy requirements, it is almost impossible to eat low-fat meals and get enough calories (Ellin Satter “Feeding and Nutrition of a Child from 0 to 5 with Love and Common Sense”). In order to obtain fat, it may make sense to include fatty vegetarian yogurts in your diet.

Sears also clarify that plant-based substitutes are generally lower in protein, making them less nutritious than cow’s milk. However, if the child does not drink cow / goat milk or is allergic to these types of milk, plant milk may well replace them, but only if the child’s nutrition is well balanced (William, Martha, Robert and James Sears “Your baby from birth to two years “).

It is also worth noting that there is not much calcium in herbal drinks, there is no vitamin D and vitamin B 12 . In this regard, it makes sense to choose milk fortified with calcium and the indicated vitamins.

Regarding the official guidelines, the National Academies of Sciences et al., 2020 report was published on July 8, 2020, which examined 6 guidance documents including recommendations for plant-based drinks (Health Canada et al., 2014, 2015; Lott et al., 2019; Ministry of Health, 2012; NHMRC, 2012; Pérez-Escamilla et al., 2017).

It turned out that the guidelines do not recommend the use of plant-based drinks for children in the first year of life, unless specifically indicated or when it comes to the use of special infant formula (for example, soy-based formula).

What’s more, even after a year, most of these guidelines don’t recommend giving plant-based drinks to kids. The exception was 2 documents:

  • A New Zealand Ministry of Health guidance document stated: “For vegetarian and vegan toddlers, give plenty of fluids every day in the form of water, breast milk, cow’s milk, or plant milk only” (Ministry of Health, 2012).
  • An Australian government official allows rice and oat milk to be included in the diet of children over 12 months of age, provided that fortified fatty varieties (at least 100 mg calcium / 100 ml) are used and alternative forms of protein and vitamin B 12 are included in the diet . These products are suitable for use under the supervision of a healthcare professional (NHMRC, 2012).

The UK National Health Service (NHS) believes it is possible to give your child over one year old calcium-fortified unsweetened milk replacers as part of a healthy, balanced diet. The NHS includes soy drinks, oat drinks and almond drinks.

However, infants and children under 5 years of age should not be given rice drinks due to their high arsenic content.

The NHS notes that arsenic is found naturally in the environment and can enter our food and water. Rice tends to consume more arsenic than other grains, but this does not mean that a child cannot eat rice. And rice milk in small quantities has no immediate risk. There are maximum permissible levels of inorganic arsenic in rice and rice products. However, it is best not to use rice milk as the main source of replacement for cow’s milk, as this entails a fairly large intake.

Coconut milk is not considered by the NHS as an alternative to cow’s milk, possibly because most coconut drinks are made with rice.

Therefore, the use of plant-based milk in children under one year of age is not recommended. Children over one year of age can generally consume soy, oatmeal, almond, and possibly coconut (it’s important to study carefully) milk. Such milk should be additionally fortified with calcium, as well as vitamins B 12 and D. It is important that the baby’s nutrition is balanced. It is recommended to discuss this issue with your doctor.