Comparing Plant-Based Milk Alternatives for Children

Comparing Plant-Based Milk Alternatives for Children

Going Dairy Free

Ive recently been sharing on Instagram the trials and tribulations of trying Raffy on a dairy free diet.  

We started to notice a few symptoms such as: loose stools, irritability, low appetite, lethargy and they seemed to correlate a lot with intakes of dairy. I went to see my GP and spoke to my good friend Penny from Paediatric Dietitians of Chichester. Both who suggested we could try dairy free for a while 

Initially I cut out milk and his stools changed straight away, but the lethargy etc lingered on. So I thought I would go whole hog and cut out all dairy.  

We’ve been doing it for nearly 6 weeks now (recommended time to trial it for). So we will be speaking to my RD and the GP about reintroducing dairy very soon.  

Dairy Free Options

Whilst I’ve been sharing my story, people have been very interested in the alternative dairy foods we’ve been offering Raffy. Therefore, I’ve asked for help from Katarina Martinez-Thomas and Allergy Dietitian Paula Hallam from Tiny Tots Nutrition to put together some blogs and infographics. Comparing different dairy free options available in the UK.   

 

Plant Based Milks Comparison

The first foods we are comparing are plant based ‘milks’. These are a MINEFIELD and something that lots of parents (those with dairy free babies and others) want to know more about.  

In this post, I wanted to share the fab visuals we shared on Instagram today, along with a short summary of what tconsider when looking for each type of ‘milk’. I’ve also included notes from Paula throughout for babies with CMPA, as she specialises in allergies.  

If you’re not familiar with milk recommendations in the UK per se, you can read about those in my Milk Recommendations Blog. Otherwise, a couple of important things to consider when it comes to choosing plant-based milk alternative include: 

  • When choosing a plant-based milk alternative, remember to consider the rest of your child’s diet in terms of the overall balance. They need to be getting sufficient energy, fats and protein from the rest of their diet if you’re considering offering a plant based milk. 
  • You also want to consider their weight and ensure that they are growing well.  
  • Cow’s milk contains protein, fat, energy, calcium, B vitamins and iodine to a child’s diet and so it’s important to look out for milk alternatives that at least go some way to replacing these nutrients. You can read more about why these are important on my blog about milk recommendations or my blog about vegetarian toddlers 
  • For children with allergies, breast milk or a hypoallergenic formula are the only suitable options as MAIN drinks for the first 12 months of life (unless an alternative is recommended by a GP or allergy specialist). Many health care professionals will also recommend that after 12 months of age and even until around 18 months to two years, breast milk or a hypoallergenic formula may still the best option for a baby, dependent on their growth and how many different food allergies they have (the more foods they are avoiding, the more likely they are to have nutrient deficiencies). 
  • However, the NHS do recommend that plant based milks (except rice drinks) can be used in cooking or mixed with food from 6 months and can be offered from 12 months alongside a healthy, balanced diet 
  • Organic versions are not fortified and so aren’t recommended for children. 

For lots more information on Plant Based Milks and recommendations around offering them to young children in the UK, please see Paula’s blog here.  I also have one on my website too… Plant Based Milks for Infants and Toddlers.

Comparing Plant Based Milks in the UK

Below, you’ll find each individual milk alternative comparison, with our top choice from each category, based on protein, calcium, iodine, B vitamin and vitamin D content when compared to whole cow’s milk. At the end of this blog we’ve also chosen our OVERALL top 3 milk alternatives, across all of the varieties to hopefully make the final choice a little easier for parents. 

Please be aware that these milks are changing ALL THE TIME and we’ve put a lot of effort into ensuring that these figures are right as of January 2020, but changes can happen very quickly, especially in such a fast growing field.   

SOYA

Comparing Plant-Based Milk Alternatives for Children

Overall note: Soya based milk alternatives are a good first choice alternative of cow’s milk. M&S’ unsweetened version is the top pick as it’s fortified with iodine and has no added sugar. Some children who are allergic to cow’s milk may also be allergic to soya milks too however, so it’s important that there are other options available. 

PEA

Comparing Plant-Based Milk Alternatives for Children

Overall note: These Pea milks have higher levels of protein and so offer a better alternative to cow’s milk compared to some of the other, often more popular plant based milks on the market. The option from these options from Mighty Pea Society have important vitamins and minerals, including calcium, iodine and vitamin B12, making it a good option as long as you’re choosing unsweetened versions where possible.  

OAT 

Comparing Plant-Based Milk Alternatives for Children

Overall note: Oatly Barista is the best choice of oat milks, and the whole Oatly range actually fortify with iodine now which is brilliant to see. However, in general, oat milks are still relatively low in protein, so if choosing this an alternative to cow’s milk, make sure to include plenty of other sources of protein in the diet overall. Oatly also have “whole”, “semi” and “skimmed” versions which have varying levels of fat from rapeseed oil. Oatly Barista is the best option in this range as it has a higher protein, fat and calorie levels than the others. 

COCONUT

Comparing Plant-Based Milk Alternatives for Children

Overall note: While Koko’s SUPER version has added protein, overall these options are all still quite low in protein compared to whole cow’s milk. This isn’t a great alternative to milk for young children.  

ALMOND

Comparing Plant-Based Milk Alternatives for Children

Overall note: These drinks are very low in energy and protein and not all are fortified with iodine so wouldn’t be recommended as a milk alternative for young children. The M&S option is the only one with added iodine and so is the best of this group.  

NUT

Comparing Plant-Based Milk Alternatives for Children

Overall note: These drinks are very low in energy and protein and not all are fortified with iodine so are therefore not recommended as milk alternatives for young children.  

HEMP

Comparing Plant-Based Milk Alternatives for Children

Overall note: These drinks are very low in energy and protein as well as lacking other added vitamins and minerals and are therefore not recommended as a milk alternative for young children. 

The Best Milk alternatives for young children? 

And finally, here are our top three plant-based milk alternatives. Based on the nutritional content and fortification levels, soya and pea milks are the best overall alternative to cow’s milk. While Alpro’s “growing up” milk is also fortified with iodine, it has some added sugars which ideally, we try to avoid. Therefore M&S’ unsweetened soya milk, which includes iodine is my number one choice here. The Mighty Pea comes up second as it has higher levels of protein as well as being fortified with iodine and other vitamins and minerals. Lastly, if soya or pea milks aren’t tolerated, then Oatly Barista would be the next best option, however, be aware that it is somewhat lower in protein and so you’d want to ensure your child is getting enough protein in their diet overall if you’re substituting with oat milk! 

Comparing Plant-Based Milk Alternatives for Children

 

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