Almond milk and soy milk have become such common replacements for dairy milk that even diners have started to carry these nondairy alternatives. But now, there’s new evidence that children gulping down these moo-free bevvies may be shorter than their peers who drink dairy milk. And since height is a metric used to assess overall health and development in children, the findings are certainly significant.
Researchers found that 3-year-olds who drank three cups of nondairy milk daily were around half an inch shorter than kids who drank three cups of cow’s milk. Moreover, the height difference increased as the amount of nondairy beverages consumed increased; the more vegan milk kids drank, the shorter they were likely be.
Researchers are attributing the results to nutrients found in cow’s milk (like protein) that are not found as abundantly in plant-based milks. The study doesn’t mean you have to give up serving your kids nondairy milk or that you must give them cow’s milk, but rather stresses the importance of scanning nutritional labels to see what kind of shortcomings the alternatives may offer, and how you can get your kids those nutrients in other, supplementary ways.
"The nutritional content of cow's milk is regulated in the United States and Canada, while the nutritional contents of most non-cow milks are not," said Dr. Jonathan Maguire, the lead study author in an official press release. "The lack of regulation means the nutritional content varies widely from one non-cow milk product to the next, particularly in the amount of protein and fat."
The study was published in the esteemed American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and was not funded by the dairy industry. St. Michael’s Hospital and the Canadian government funded the research. The scientists looked at more than 5,000 children via medical data provided in Canada’s TARGet Kids research study.
Bottom line? "If products are being marketed as being equivalent to cow's milk, as a consumer and a parent, I would like to know that they are, in fact, the same in terms of their effect on children's growth," said Maguire.