Soy good? How to help families choose the best plant-based milk alternatives for kids
Written by Sophia Kalil and Brianne Davidson, Dietetic Interns, and Nadia Guirguis, RD, Public Health Dietitian

Our public health dietitians share tips on what you should know about serving plant-based milks to kids.

When was the last time you poured your child a cold glass of milk? Whether it’s because of dairy allergies, lactose intolerance, or increasingly popular diet choices such as vegetarianism and veganism, many households have switched to plant-based beverages instead of milk from animals. But with so many different kinds of ‘milk’ alternatives on the market, it can be hard to know which plant-based beverage is best to counsel your patients and clients to choose.

Here are some tips to help you offer the best advice:

What is a plant-based beverage?

Plant-based beverages are made from grains, legumes, nuts or seeds. Varieties include soy, almond, rice, coconut, hemp, oat or pea. And yet while these drinks are called ‘milks’ they have different amounts of nutrients when compared to cow’s milk, and parents should be aware of nutrients their children may be missing.

Why does it matter which plant-based beverage a child drinks?

Whichever beverage you choose to offer, it’s important that it contributes to meeting the child’s nutritional needs. The best choice is the beverage with an adequate amount of protein, fat, vitamin D and calcium, which does not contain added sugar. Only fortified soy beverage is considered a cow’s milk alternative, because it replicates the calcium, vitamin and protein components. One cup, or 250 mL of soy milk, has an equivalent amount of protein, fat, calcium and vitamins A or D as cow’s milk.

Because almond, coconut and rice milks are lower in protein and fat than cow’s milk or soy beverages, your child’s nutritional needs may not be met by relying on these beverages alone. Cup for cup, almond milk has significantly less protein and fat than soy milk, while rice milk also contains less fat and protein, and coconut milk provides no protein.

So if you are substituting plant-based beverages for animal milks in your child’s glass, you should carefully consider their diet to make sure their nutritional needs are being met. A registered dietitian can help and you can consult one for free at HealthLinkBC.

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