Parenting sure has gotten more complicated in recent years. Let’s take milk, for example.

Do your kids drink cow, soy, almond, cashew, rice, coconut, or maybe hemp milk? Trying to choose the best milk for your little ones can mean a major time investment to research, read all the labels, and determine what your priorities are since each type of milk provides different nutritional benefits or drawbacks.

Organizations like PETA have supported a widespread anti-cow’s milk movement. The dairy industry has fought back with marketing campaigns touting milk’s superiority over the other choices.

The number of children drinking non-cow’s milk has grown steadily over the past 10 years. Parents choose different milk for their children based on a variety of factors. With about eight percent of children under age 18 having a food allergy, many families depend on dairy alternatives.

 

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Other reasons could be based on environmental, social, financial, or other health concerns. Now parents have a bit more to ponder given a new study just published in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition”, which shows how children who did not drink cow’s milk were shorter than those who did.

The study was led by pediatrician Dr. Jonathon Maguire and researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Canada. It involved a cross-section of 5,034 healthy Canadian children ranging in age from two to six years old. About five percent drank only non-cow’s milk, 84 percent drank only cow’s milk, eight percent drank both types of milk, and three percent drank neither.

To track changes, the participants’ heights and weights were measured and blood samples were taken. In addition, parents were surveyed about their child’s diet. When they factored in age, sex, ethnicity, neighborhood income, and maternal height, the results stayed the same.

The analysis showed that the children’s difference in height depended on how much milk they drank. For each daily cup of non-cow’s milk consumed, kids were 0.4 centimeters (0.15 inches) shorter than average for their age. For example, a three-year-old child consuming three cups of non-cow’s milk was 1.5 centimeters shorter on average. That’s over half an inch difference, which is a pretty big deal at a young age.

Researchers are not sure yet if height will continue to be affected as the children grow. However, in general children in a certain percentile for height typically remain on that line for the rest of their childhood and into adulthood.

So, what is causing this height difference? The researchers are not quite sure yet, but they think one factor may be that plant-based milks do not stimulate insulin-like growth factor, or IGF, production as effectively as cow’s milk does.

Additionally, cow’s milk has more protein in it than the alternatives. To put this in perspective, two cups of cow’s milk contain 16 grams of protein, which meets 100 percent of the daily protein requirement for a three-year-old child. The same amount of almond milk, for example, only has four grams of protein.

Given this latest information, experts are advising parents that cow’s milk may be the best option for their kids. Plant-based beverages also provide many needed nutrients like protein, calcium, magnesium, and potassium, and may be appropriate given allergies or specific family concerns. Cow’s milk alternatives are still far healthier than fruit juice, energy drinks, and soda, which are surprisingly prevalent in children’s diets.

If your kids drink plant-based milk products, just be sure they get enough protein from other sources throughout the day. Finally, consider speaking with your pediatrician in more detail about the best option(s) for your children.