Fort Worth, Texas,
16
February
2016
|
09:20 PM
America/Chicago

Almond milk: A nutty fad or healthy alternative

The Doc Smitty looks at this protein source for your baby

Around 1 year of age, parents start to wonder what they are going to do for their child’s nutrition.

Some choose to stop breastfeeding. Some move on from spending all their extra money on formula. Everyone is wondering what milk to move to next.

The standard answer used to be ... whole cow’s milk. Now 2 percent seems reasonable; even soy in those who have had issues with cow’s milk before. Let’s start off by saying that there’s nothing magical about milk. I like to think of it as an easy way to get your child calories, protein and calcium. But, if they are getting those nutrients from other sources, I am not too concerned about how much milk they drink.

What about almond milk?

Almond milk sales have gone through the roof over the past decade. As more adults identify as lactose intolerant and are turning to plant-based alternatives, it’s no surprise that they are starting to consider it an alternative to cow’s milk for their children.

Let’s start by comparing the nutritional information:

Almond milk is made by crushing up some almonds and mixing them with some water. It’s not fancy. In commercially available products, 1 cup has the equivalent of about 4 almonds worth of nutrition in it.

Given that I consider the primary benefits of milk to be a source of calories (35 in almond compared vs 160 in whole cow’s milk), protein (1 vs 9 grams) and calcium (2% RDA vs 30%), almond milk doesn’t exactly measure up. This could be a problem with a picky eater whom the family is relying on almond milk, thinking it will help supplement when they do not eat well.

Could almond milk be harmful?

A case study published online for Pediatrics (February 2016) describes a case where a child fed predominately almond milk and almond flour from 2.5-10 months of age resulted in the child having scurvy. Scurvy is a disease that is the result of having too little vitamin C and can result in bone thinning and fractures. Of course, the improper use of cow’s milk over this time could also cause a number of health problems as well, including anemia.

Prolonged use of almond based milk has been linked to low chloride levels and failure to gain weight in other patients. I believe these are both also related to poor intake of other foods, as a child can grow just fine without nutritional deficiencies with a balanced diet and water.

What’s the bottom line?

Is almond milk the most terrible thing in the world? No.

Is it a good alternative to cow’s milk for your child? No.

It just doesn’t have the same nutritional value. Your child might as well just drink water. Focusing on a balanced diet is key no matter what.

About the author

Justin Smith, M.D., is a Cook Children's pediatrician in Lewisville . View more from The Doc Smitty at his Facebook page.He attended University of Texas, Southwestern Medical School and did his pediatric training at Baylor College of Medicine. He joins Cook Children's after practicing in his hometown of Abilene for four years. He has a particular interest in development, behavior and care for children struggling with obesity. In his spare time, he enjoys playing with his 3 young children, exercising, reading and writing about parenting and pediatric health issues.

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