Milk has long been considered the ultimate source of calcium – the builder of strong bones and overall health. However, in the world of pediatric care, its actual impact on a child’s wellbeing is a growing cause for concern. In this post we’ll unravel the truth behind dairy’s nutritional value and offer alternatives for growing strong and healthy kids.
First things first: Do we require dairy?
The simple answer is NO. One of dairy’s selling points is its presumed potential to create strong bones and prevent osteoporosis. However, mounting research reveals that countries that historically have consumed higher amounts of dairy often report more cases of osteoporosis than other countries with significantly less intake. (See the International Osteoporosis Foundation’s Fact Sheet for more important details).
How could this be? The fact is that humans do not have a nutritional requirement for animal milk. Cow’s milk and related dairy products are a modern addition to our food supply (largely driven by our profitable and powerful dairy industry).
Breast milk is the only kind of milk a human baby requires, and store bought cow’s milk is not a suitable substitute – it doesn’t “pick up” where breast milk leaves off. (Of course, for a variety of reasons, not all mothers can breast feed. Therefore, some infants must be fed formula which is typically cow’s milk derived, but it is specially made to mimic mothers’ milk.)
Whole cow’s milk is meant for baby cows and is fortified (sometimes genetically) with hormones designed to accelerate calves’ growth and maturity. For human babies, bone growth isn’t about speed – it’s about getting the right amount of bone-strengthening nutrients.
So, how can dairy impact your baby’s health?
Numerous studies reveal that a diet laden with animal milk can increase the likelihood of weight gain, cancer risk, irritable bowel syndrome, bloating, gas, diarrhea, allergies, eczema, acne, and osteoporosis. These health risks are increased by the fact that many of the dairy products found in our grocery stores have been genetically modified, which can lead to inflammation, autoimmune disease, type 1 diabetes, to name a few.
There’s also this alarming study which reveals that infants who are fed cow’s milk within in their first year of life are at greater risk of iron deficiency as a result of intestinal bleeding, and they may also experience severe dehydration.
Here at our pediatric care practice in San Francisco, we’ve found cow’s milk to be the leading dietary cause of constipation in our young patients, as well as significantly contributing to chronic nasal congestion, which can lead to snoring, sleep disturbances, and learning difficulties.
As you can see, the potentially negative impact cow’s milk may have on your child’s health is simply too vast and too alarming to ignore.
So, what’s the alternative?
Contrary to popular belief, bone growth doesn’t rely solely on calcium – our bodies also require healthy doses of magnesium, (stay tuned for more!) vitamin D, and physical activity to build and maintain healthy bones.
When it comes to getting enough calcium, we really don’t have to look further than Mother Nature to help us meet our daily requirements. Here’s a list of calcium-rich foods that you can incorporate into your family’s diet:
- Bok Choy
- Broccoli rabe
- Collard greens
- White Beans
Pairing these foods with a good and safe calcium supplement may also be an option, though we don’t recommend it for most, and always prefer to tailor our recommendations to the individual child’s unique requirements. Adequate vitamin D is probably the more important factor since 70% of American kids don’t get enough and without adequate levels of vitamin D, the intestine absorbs only 10 to 15 percent of dietary calcium.
Finally, if you’re a family of milk lovers, there are also plenty of alternatives out there that give you all the flavor and nutritional goodness you need – without the negative implications of cow’s milk. Here are just a few of our favorite nut-based milk recipes which are super easy if you have a high-powered blender or Vitamix:
GetzWell’s got the nutritional goods.
Achieving optimal growth is a central part of your child’s pediatric care. At GetzWell, we can customize diet and supplementation plans based on your child’s unique needs. To learn more give us a call at our San Francisco offices at 415-826-1701.