Canada’s dietitians and pediatricians are discouraging parents from relying on plant-based drinks such as rice, coconut and almond milks as the main beverage for babies and young kids as may not be getting all the nutrients they need.
Also drinking too much of the plant-based beverages can displace hunger and cause children to eat less food.
Experts say that the best foods for growing children are whole, fresh and unprocessed fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains, dairy and meats.
Dr. Catherine Pound of the Canadian Paediatric Society said, “There’s a bit of a push from the health movement where people think or feel that plant-based nutrition is better than meat-based nutrition, which may be true in adulthood where we are recommending to move away from eating meat very frequently, but the same doesn’t hold true for children who need the protein.”
She added, “We see parents that are well-intentioned that are moving to a plant-based beverage for their children thinking they are doing a good thing, while actually they are withholding important nutrients and proteins.”
Pound said, “Fat is extremely important for a child or a toddler because it certainly contributes to brain growth.We do not want to restrict fat at all for the first couple years of life.”
Almond, coconut or rice drinks contain little to no protein and would require kids to also eat two child-sized servings of meat or two half-cup servings of lentils. Almond drinks only contain about four almonds per cup.
If possible, infants should be exclusively breast fed for the first six months, and continued for up to two years or longer with appropriate complementary feeding. Otherwise, babies can drink formula or pasteurized human milk from screened donors.
Cow milk is not recommended before nine to 12 months of age. Full fat homogenized cow milk is then recommended for kids until age two.
Kids aged two to eight need 13 to 19 grams of protein per day, which can be met with two cups of cow milk or two cups of fortified soy beverage.
Plant-based beverages, including soy milk, are “inappropriate alternatives to cow milk in the first two years,” said a joint statement issued by Dietitians of Canada and the Canadian Paediatric Society.