A joint news release from Dietitians of Canada and the Canadian Paediatric Society urges parents to be careful in their selection of milks for young children. Specifically, they are concerned about the low protein and mineral content of unfortified plant milks.
I agree with most of what they say. Unfortified plant milks should not be a main part of toddlers’ diets. It’s also likely, as they suggest, that there are advantages to providing children with either breast milk or commercial infant formula up to the age of two years. But I disagree with their suggestion that it’s okay to start kids on cow’s milk at age one, but not fortified soymilk. In fact, their statement conflicts with recommendations in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics position paper on vegetarian diets which says “Full fat, fortified soy milk, or dairy milk can be started as early as 1 year of age for toddlers who are growing normally and eating a variety of foods.”
The joint statement from the Canadian dietitians and doctors warned that low-nutrient plant-based beverages can displace hunger and cause children to eat less food. But the same can be said of cow’s milk. In fact, because it lacks iron, there is evidence that kids who fill up on cow’s milk end up consuming less iron and are at higher risk for deficiency (1). Fortified soy milk provides not just protein, calcium, and vitamin D, and vitamin B12, but also iron. It could very well be a better choice for children.
It’s true that many plant milks are a poor source of nutrition for children. Most (but not all) milks made from nuts, for example, are too low in protein and/or fat for very young children. This doesn’t translate to a requirement for cow’s milk. It just means that parents should choose milks wisely for children.
For infants up to the age of one year, the only appropriate milks are breast milk or commercial infant formula, including soy formula. During this first year of life, children should not drink regular commercial or homemade plant milks or cow’s milk. After their first birthday, kids can continue to consume breast milk or formula or they can start drinking full-fat, fortified soymilk. Vegan children should be consuming one of these three milks (or some combination of these milks) until about the third birthday. It’s okay to use other plant milks as well; they just shouldn’t be the main milk in a child’s diet.
The fact is that when vegan babies get sick from malnutrition, it’s usually because their parents did not understand the importance of choosing the right type of milk. Vegan babies and toddlers should have a milk that is rich in protein, fat, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. It doesn’t have to come from a cow.
Ziegler EE. Consumption of cow’s milk as a cause of iron deficiency in infants and toddlers. Nutr Rev 2011;69 Suppl 1:S37-42.
Thank you for this post!! My husband and I have been vegan for over 9 years and have a 3 year + 2 month old son (vegan since conception). My son and I had a very hard time with breastfeeding and so my husband and I opted to put him on Earth’s Best organic soy formula starting at about 3 weeks old. He totally thrived and it was an extremely positive experience. I’m so grateful for it. At about 13 months I started to decrease the formula and substitute in other plant milks. By about 15 months he was completely off the formula and on our plant milk blend. From 15 months to present, our blend has been: 1 part Eden Soy Extra organic soy milk (which is fortified), 1 part unsweetened Tempt hemp milk and 1 part my own homemade milk. (To make the homemade milk, I blend 4 cups of water with 1/3 cup organic oats, 1/2 cup raw organic cashews, 1 pitted date, and 1 pitted prune in my Vitamix blender). I also add the powered Dr Fuhrman multivitamin (Pixie Vites) to the milk blend. My son absolutely loves this drink and he drinks even more now then when he was 18 months-2 years. That equates to 32+ oz per day. Unfortunately, he’s not a big eater of regular food. He started out eating lots and lots of foods (6 mo to 2 years) but at 2 years he became extremely fussy. It hasn’t worried us though, though – he is perfectly healthy in every way, and strong! His gross motor skills are quite impressive (he was skiing last year and can broad jump at least 3 ft). I can’t force him to eat, I can only keep offering him the foods that we eat, right? I’d love to hear your thoughts about our milk blend because I just used my own knowledge and intuition to create that recipe.
Correction to my post – I meant *TWO* parts Eden Soy, 1 part hemp milk and 1 part homemade milk as described.
As a general rule, I wouldn’t recommend making your own milk for a toddler–especially since it might be a little low in protein for some kids. Obviously, it’s met your son’s needs very well, though. (I’m pretty impressed with a 3-year old who can broad jump 3 feet!) I’m interested to know how many cups your recipe makes. And are you using the regular Tempt? Not the protein-fortified one?
My homemade blend fills up about 1.5 quart-size wide mouth mason jars once blended. I looked at the Tempt Unsweetened carton label and it says 2 grams protein per 1-cup serving. It’s got this RDA profile also: Vitamin A 10%, Vitamin C 0% Calcium 30%, Iron 6%, Vitamin D 25%, Vitamin E 8%, Riboflavin 25%, Folic Acid 2%,Vitamin B12 25%, Phosphorus 20%, Magnesium 10%, Zinc 4%. Finally, the ingredient list is: “Hemp nut base (filtered water, hemp nut [shelled hemp seed]), vanilla extract, sunflower lecithin, tricalcium phosphate, gellan gum, sea salt, vitamin A palmitate, vitamin D2, riboflavin, vitamin B12.”
I did a quick analysis of your blend of soymilk, hemp milk and homemade milk, and it is pretty nutritious. It’s a little lower in protein and calcium than plain fortified soymilk, but if your son is drinking 2-3 cups per day, it should go a long way toward helping him meet needs. The only thing it is low in is vitamin D. Maybe he is getting that from the vitamin powder you add (I’m not familiar with it) but otherwise, he’d need a vitamin D supplement or good sun exposure. It’s nice, thought, that you’ve come up with a nutritious blend that is something he loves.
“During this first year of life, children should not drink regular commercial or homemade plant milks or cow’s milk.”
Why? I understand that plant milk should not in any situation substitute breast milk (or formula) but if my kid can eat rice/oat why can’t he have some rice/oat milk that’s just the cereal and water? Not as a great source of whatever, just as something extra. Full discloser: we are vegans and my kid DID have some rice and oat milk before turning 1 mostly because he didn’t liked water so we tried some milk to help keep him hydrated. I’ve breastfeed him for as long as he wanted (only 18 months, but that was his choice) but if he had some biscuits for a snack he also had some plant milk with it. He’s healthy, smart, and always on the average weight for his age. He’s almost 2 now drinks fortified plant milks only.
It’s really just a recommendation to keep things simple. Infants should have either breast milk or formula as their main milk until age one. It’s okay, though, to offer small amounts of other plant milks now and then — like a little bit mixed into cooked cereal. The recommendation against these milks just means that they shouldn’t play a significant role in their diet.
Milk (animal or plant), like all sweet beverages, are like candy for kids. They will drink lots of sweet beverages if allowed, and the “health halo” on them (earned or not) can lead caregivers to provide milk more often than necessary. This pushes other nutritious foods out of the way.
What about estrogen levels in soy milk? Are they are risk factor?
Amy, you can check a video of her husband, Dr. Mark Messina on youtube addressing the miscomceptions of soy. He’s a brilliant man who has spent many years researching and bringing attention to the large amount of evidence that negates any health risk of soy consumption.
Thank you for this informative article!
What about b12 supplement for infants? My son is 7 months en i still breastfeed. He also is eating some fruit, veg and bread. Any tips on brands of b12?