(This is Part 2 of a two-part article. Read Part 1 here)
So, my wife decided to research the food we were feeding our two kids (ages 3 and 1) and in the process we ended up with a small army of milks in our refrigerator.
We have two kinds of cow’s milk (whole and 2%), some soy milk, some chocolate soy milk , a carton of almond milk, and a thing of coconut milk. Confusing, right?
I am all in favor of making a change for my little ones if it’s going to be a healthier choice, but I have to be honest, I am more than a little perplexed at this sudden influx of variety in our lives. As I wrote in yesterday’s peek at my personal milk conundrum, it used to be that you bought a big old jug of red-capped cow’s milk and were done with the thing. But no more.
So how do I begin to make the right choice?
Well, when it comes to the kids, I figured I’d just do the grunt work and take a look at two of the most popular choices available to us parents.
Then we’ll see where we end up.
Cow’s Milk: The Fat Is Where It’s At
There is a reason that cows are still such a mainstay in the milk world, people. Especially when it comes to what are kids are drinking. See, despite all the attention and benefits being heaped upon these alternative forms of the white stuff, it seems like the cow is still king.
Well, for one thing, we have to consider that many children in America are weaned off of their mother’s breast milk at a still relatively young age. Typically, that ultra-nutritious super-milk is then replaced by one of two choices, depending upon how old the child is: formula or whole milk from a cow.
Formula, that manufactured hodgepodge of enrichments, is often the next stop on the nutrition train for kids. In our family, my wife breast-fed each of our kids for the first few months before we switched them over to formula.
By the time they were a year old though, we had spent a small fortune on the stuff and as our studies revealed that one was an age wherein lots of parents began to give their babies whole milk, that’s what we did, too.
Turns out, we were right on track, according to an article at Parenting.com called Got Milk? The Benefits of Milk for Kids. As Dr. Frank Greer, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics’s Committee on Nutrition, puts it , children of about a year old still need “the fat for nerve and brain development,” that whole milk provides.
This is a very clutch point in the milk wars here, because despite any benefits that alternative milks like soy milk might lay claim to, that fat content just isn’t there.
So, even though soy milk might offer a comparable or even higher level of calcium, it seems that whole milk still trumps it for kids under the age of two.
“Eighty percent of brain development occurs in the first two years of life, so you want the fat at that point,” says that same Dr. Greer in an article on USNews.com. He also states that when most kids reach two years of age, they are getting a lot of their fats from other foods and so at that point it’s best to switch them over to a lower-fat milk.
Of course, there are some exceptions, as Dr. Greer in the Parenting article also mentions that, “If your child’s gaining weight too quickly for his height, your pediatrician may recommend switching to low-fat milk before age 2.”
So before age two, it would seem like whole milk from our old friend the cow is the way to go.
But then, things can become a bit trickier.
Soy Milk: A Fit Alternative?
Now that my daughter is actually three-and-a-half and my son is pushing two, I recognize that my wife is on to something here as she brings in all these new milks into our kitchen. What she didn’t do was switch to one right away though, and I think that was a cool move. Instead, we are sampling a bunch of different things, first and foremost to see if the kids will actually drink them and not spit ‘em right back out, and secondly, because it gives us, as parents, a chance to research which path to go down with a sample of choices at our fingertips.
Of course, in years past, the only real alternative to whole milk was either one percent, or two percent, or skim. But that was still a cow’s deal and we have been curious as to what might be the benefits of something that wasn’t necessarily an old staple of yesterday.
Thus, for the first time in my 40 years on Earth, we have soy milk in the icebox.
Now, the thing about soy milk that the uninitiated (myself included!) need to understand is that there are quite a few kinds and varieties now available. There are enriched kinds and organic kinds and this is great and all, I guess, but it doesn’t make decision-making any easier, I can tell you that much. And to make matters even more confusing, although I can find lots of articles that seem to say that soy milk being introduced to your kid’s palate/diet can’t really ever hurt, I seem to sense a real hesitation from most writers/doctors/so-called experts to say, flat out, “Yeah, go ahead and replace your toddler’s cow milk consumption with the soy stuff.”
This sounds off a few alarm bells for me, much to my wife’s chagrin. She seems convinced that, at four, our daughter, who seems to love the taste of soy milk, is perfectly able to handle switching to it full-time. But, I’m still a bit leery, mostly I think because the cow milks, the old milks are, well, old. And the new milks are, umm, so new.
So, at this point I am still sneaking my kids whole milk in addition to some of the soy.
Still, there is much to be addressed when it comes to the sweeter tasting soy milk. Take this statement from an article about it over on WhatToExpect.com:
“One thing to consider with soy milk is that it contains phytoestrogens (also called plant estrogens or isoflavones), which may affect breast cancer. But researchers aren’t sure whether these phytoestrogens help prevent or promote breast cancer. More research is still needed on that front. Until then, one thing is clear to experts: A couple of glasses of soy milk a day should not have any effect on your toddler’s risk of breast cancer one way or the other.”
Uhhh, okay. That seems to leave quite a cliffhanger out there don’t you think?
My jury is still out on soy milk. I like it myself and have begun using it entirely in place of milk on my own. But, like a lot of people, I’m hesitant to say whether it’s totally right for my kids or not.
For what it’s worth, that WhatToExpect.com article does include a very cool chart comparing the nutritious values of soy milk and cow’s milk. Check it out…
So, given the two poplar choices of milk that I decided to look at here, I have to say that I am still a little torn.
To be honest, I want to like soy milk better. I want to help my kids have a better healthier life than any of us who came before them, and in that way of thinking, I am smooshing my eyes shut and crinkling my face and wishing hard for a new magical elixir to replace that old standby cow’s milk that we all grew up glugging.
But, in just my precursory scan of the Internet, I wasn’t able to find much of anything that convinced me that toddlers who make that switch are way better off in any department except maybe the calorie/fat one. And while that’s very important and definitely something to consider given the rampant state of childhood obesity in America today, it wasn’t really the only thing I was looking for.
But, then again, I guess I didn’t even know what to expect either.
So, I’m going to keep on the soy milk trail… and the almond milk trail…. and the damn turtle milk trail if that’s what my wife ends up bringing home next. I’m going to keep sampling them myselves and giving them in smaller doses to my kids every day, until I feel as if my mind is made p and I am convinced that one is better than the other for my kiddos.
Or, just as likely, we’ll be buying six kinds of milk now for the rest of my life.
And hey… maybe that’s the best alternative to one kind of milk, after all, huh?
You can also find Serge on his personal blog, Thunder Pie.
Keep up with Babble.com on Facebook.
More from Serge: