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Got real milk? Experts say children should avoid plant-based milk

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According to a new study from leading health organizations, children should only drink water and real milk to get the key nutrients needed for a healthy lifestyle. Evidence indicates that, with the exception of fortified soy milk, many plant-based/non-dairy milk alternatives lack key nutrients found in cow’s milk.  

Leading medical and nutrition organizations recommend breast milk, infant formula, water, and plain milk as part of a new set of comprehensive beverage recommendations for children, outlined by age (birth through age 5). They caution against beverages that are sources of added sugars in young children’s diets, including flavored milks (e.g., chocolate, strawberry) and sugar- and low-calorie sweetened beverages, in addition to a wide variety of beverages that are on the market and targeted to children such as toddler formulas, caffeinated beverages, and plant-based/non-dairy milks (e.g., almond, rice, oat), which provide no unique nutritional value.

“Early childhood is an important time to start shaping nutrition habits and promoting healthy beverage consumption,” said Megan Lott, MPH, RD, Deputy Director of Healthy Eating Research, which convened the expert panel. “By providing caregivers, health care and early care and education providers, policymakers, and beverage industry representatives a clear set of objective, science-based recommendations for healthy drink consumption, we can use this opportunity to work together and improve the health and well-being of infants and young children throughout the United States.”

The recommendations were developed as part of an unprecedented collaboration by experts at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the Academy), American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the American Heart Association (AHA) under the leadership of Healthy Eating Research (HER), a leading nutrition research organization, and with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

“From the time children are born through those first few years, beverages are a significant source of calories and nutrients and can have a big impact on health long into the future,” said Richard Besser, MD, President and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Families deserve clear and consistent guidance on what their young children should drink and what they should avoid. These recommendations from our country’s leading medical and nutrition organizations will help families raise healthy children.”

The full guidelines and accompanying technical report can be found at www.healthydrinkshealthykids.org.

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