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Should I switch my kids to almond milk?

Dear Georgie, I’m thinking of switching my kids to almond milk. From what I have read about cows milk (as with beef too)… I am concerned about additives and hormones. Young girls are getting their periods earlier, possibly from hormones and processed foods. I have been aware of this for some time, but only now considering almond milk since it is what I use. You must have some interesting thoughts on this. – Cat

You can find people who are against soy, dairy, meat, wheat, ….ANYTHING. Just to get that out of the way. I am committed to not going with anything just because someone said so, I try to always read the evidence and research with my own eyes. I’m not going to tell you which to choose, but I’ll throw out some thoughts that may help you make an informed decision.

It is true girls are maturing earlier, and that is scary indeed! But I hesitate to blame milk for that. Partially because milk intake per capita has been on a steady decline for several decades.

I personally believe the trend toward earlier menarche is due to higher bodyweights and bodyfat levels. Higher bodyfat = higher estrogen (among other things). That effect is well-supported. So it may be a side effect of the obesity epidemic.

There is one review that was published Feb 2011 that found a slight increase in early menarche among the girls who drank the most milk. And this association persisted when they removed the influence of BMI from the equation. I suggest reading it, it’s VERY well done and thought provoking. Read it here.

As far as hormones in milk, many people opt for organic for just that reason. The hormone scientists are concerned about is IGF-1. No hormones are added to milk, but if the dairy farmer gives the cows something called rBST to increase milk production it increases the amount of IGF-1 in the milk. Now, Monsanto claims that no scientific test can tell the difference between milk from cows treated with rBST and cows that aren’t, but I’m not sure I buy that since Monsanto manufactures rBST. Hmmmm  Anyway, organic milk has no rbST, and the cows also get feed free of pesticides, etc.

It’s known that drinking milk (of any type) increases the amount IGF-1 in the bloodstream. Whether this has any negative health effects is still not clear. IGF-1 is linked to the endocrinology of insulin and growth hormone. Wouldn’t surprise me if it made a difference in when a girl attained puberty. Milk consumption in children has been shown to be linked with increased height after all.

Hence, I buy rBST free milk. Not necessarily organic, but I do look for that.

But I’m not saying you or your kids need dairy milk, I don’t see any problem with giving them almond milk as long as you choose a brand that’s fortified with calcium (and Vitamin D if possible). Those two key nutrients are typically provided by cows milk, and growing kids do need calcium.

If the diet as a whole is sufficient in calcium and D, removing milk is not a problem at all. After all, how many children with milk allergies have I seen, and I don’t bat an eye at removing all milk from their diets? As long as we ensure they are getting adequate vitamins and minerals, they grow up healthy as can be dairy-free.

I’m not anti-milk. I’m not anti-soy. I view both as foods which I wouldn’t go crazy on, but I’m not afraid to consume. I have ~1 cup of soymilk a day, and no fluid milk but plenty of lowfat cheese, yogurt, etc. (And its anyone’s guess if those are the same as milk in all the above arguments). And whey protein.

To be fair, there are also lots of studies finding that children who drink milk have less body fat, better health, etc. Read this article for example: Consumption of Milk and Body Fat in Children.  I believe that the fact that milk drinkers have less bodyfat can be at least partially attributed to milk displacing soda, fruit juice and other  drinks, personally. I can say confidently that my (future) kids won’t be juice or soda drinkers at home.

I guess the strongest argument is would I give my kids milk? Sure. Would I give them almond milk? Sure. I don’t panic about this stuff. If my kid was drinking a quart of milk a day, I’d be concerned, but a moderate intake, say 1 cup a day, I don’t think is really something to worry about. I think if you try and avoid every food item that has ever been implicated with any health problem, you’ll either lose your marbles or starve to death.

Did you read the articles I linked to? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment! Which type of milk do you or your children drink?

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  • amer January 1, 2014, 3:35 am

    Should I switch my kids to almond milk?

  • Nicole, RD April 12, 2011, 5:10 am

    This was the best: I think if you try and avoid every food item that has ever been implicated with any health problem, you’ll either lose your marbles or starve to death.

    Such a well-written post, Georgie! I think you hit it home with that closing line. I don’t stress about things like that, either. I’m all for making good choices and doing nothing in excess.

    I also buy rBST-free milk, but not necessarily organic, as well. I do try and get organic yogurt because Greek varieties are almost always organic, so why not? But cheese…like you mentioned, that’s a hard one to decipher a lot of times.

  • Lisa M. April 12, 2011, 2:35 am

    awesome post and information georgie! i only had time to skim the first article so far..
    hubby drinks milk and has his entire life! he’s pretty lean and healthy. i was lactose intolerant when i was little so i have an aversion to dairy milk and don’t drink it. but i love almond milk! my two and half year old drinks milk as well as almond milk, watered down(!) apple juice and just plain ole water! since she only really eats cheese as her main source of protein right now (seems as though some toddlers don’t like meat until they are older!?!) i like the idea of her drinking about two cups of milk a day (skim) to get her protein..she is definitely growing up and NOT out! thanks for posting this information – my hubby and i were wondering about the early menarch/milk debate,,,going to have him read this for sure! best, lisa

  • Niel April 9, 2011, 8:42 am

    I use to drink milk by the boatload in middle school and only saw my height shoot up. I wasn’t concerned with how I was eating, but I’m glad I was getting sufficient protein from somewhere because my diet was junk food.

    I think kids need to develop their own eating habits and style with a little guidance. In the end they should make their own decisions with the knowledge they’ve been provided.

  • Monica April 9, 2011, 5:50 am

    I like the sweetened vanilla soymilk which I make into “lattes” w/ coffee at home, but I rarely drink it straight. I also like the Stonyfield Organic milk, which I use in smoothies, baking, etc., but I rarely drink it straight. I try to buy both soy and dairy products organic, or I get the ones from Whole Foods which have no rBST. I don’t have any kids but I do not see how those hormones can be beneficial to me, so I would rather do without them. And I don’t believe anything Monsanto says about anything!