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Guidelines Suggesting Children Avoid Plant-Based Milks: A Closer Examination


Recent Healthy Drinks, Healthy Kids (HDHK) guidelines state children between 12 and 24 months need to be consuming 2–3 cups a day of whole fat cow’s milk, and less of all other beverages except water. Guidelines explicitly state plant-based milks should be avoided (with the exception of soy milk). We agree that in the first 12 months the optimal food for childhood growth is breast milk, with formula used where needed. However, after weaning, milk of any kind is not required, and should not be relied upon as a main source of calories. Children will be fine with water and a healthy balanced diet. Whether cow’s milk should be consumed is beyond our scope here, however it is clear that plant-based milks can easily be included in day-to-day use post-weaning. Used in this fashion plant-based milks can be less harmful than dairy milks; at least for certain groups. Although cow’s milk is rich in calcium, it does not appear to clearly reduce fractures, but consumption carries risks including: a potential association with type 1 diabetes mellitus onset; anemia in toddlers; lactose intolerance; cow’s milk protein allergy; and infantile colic. Adverse effects from normal consumption must be compared against risks from plant-based milks, which are problematic mainly when used inappropriately in otherwise unbalanced diets; e.g. with inadequate solid foods. Despite limited evidence of serious harms from consumption of plant-based milks, HDHK provides vigorous recommendations, especially by comparison to guidelines with more evidence to support their stance (such as processed meats causing colorectal cancer).

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NW and MS currently volunteer for the Plant Based New Zealand Health Trust registered charity, but have received funding from the same for travel costs to present at a lifestyle medicine conference in 2018. MS has previously been employed as a researcher for the same organisation. MS and NW run a free online course teaching on plant-based diets. This article was not commissioned in any way.

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Correspondence to Nicholas S. Wright.

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Wright, N.S., Smith, M. Guidelines Suggesting Children Avoid Plant-Based Milks: A Closer Examination. Matern Child Health J 24, 1189–1192 (2020).

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  • Nutrition
  • Breastfeeding
  • Cow’s milk
  • Plant-based
  • Guidelines