Who would have thought something as innocuous as milk could be so controversial? Dairy is one of the most common foods I get asked about in my clinical practice. There is plenty of conflicting advice around, even amongst health practitioners! No wonder it’s confusing!
So let me start with when we introduce dairy for the first time - introducing solids.
Up until 12 months of age, the primary food for your baby is breast milk or formula. The introduction of solids at around 6 months is to supplement breast milk or formula and to increase key nutrients for growth and development like iron and zinc.
Because cow's milk and other dairy foods are a common cause of food allergy in babies, it is recommended to introduce these before the age of 12 months to reduce the risk of allergy.
I recommend the introduction of full-fat dairy including yoghurt, kefir and small amounts of cheese, from around 8 month of age. You can also use very small amounts of cow’s milk in cooked foods a couple of times a week and I would recommend using A2 cow’s milk or goat’s milk - I’ll explain why this is important shortly.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body and we typically think of calcium for bones and teeth, however every cell in the body requires calcium and it also plays an important role in muscle contraction, it’s required for our heart to pump and for our nerves to pass signals. Calcium is also a vital nutrient during periods like childhood, adolescence, pregnancy and lactation.
The Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for children aged between 7-12 months is 270mg. For toddlers aged between 1 - 3 years, the RDI is 500mg (1-2 serves daily). This increases to 700mg from 4-8 years of age (2 serves daily).
One of the most common concerns I hear is “how will my child get enough calcium if they don’t drink milk?”. The answer to this is yes - but only if they have a balanced diet, rich in whole foods.
But while calcium is a very important nutrient, it doesn’t work alone. In order for the body to properly absorb and use calcium, we also need other essential nutrients, including magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin A and vitamin K.
So if your child isn’t eating foods that contain these nutrients, then there’s little point in drinking loads of milk to increase calcium if their body isn’t able to put it to use! And in fact, too much calcium can cause constipation and also interferes with the body’s ability to absorb other nutrients such as iron and zinc.
Toddlers who drink lots of cow’s milk (more than 500ml in 24 hours) can become low in iron and fibre, often because they don’t eat as much food when they’re filling up on milk. This can lead to missing out on key vitamins and minerals from whole foods, such as animal protein, fruit and vegetables.
Iron is a vital nutrient for growth and development and having too much milk, particulalry with meals may prevent the body’s ability to absorb iron from food.
Cow’s milk reduces the amount of iron in our child’s’ diet in three key ways;
Milk contains a type of sugar called lactose. As babies, our body makes an enzyme called lactase that breaks down the lactose in breast milk and allows us to digest it. But after we are weaned in early childhood or around 3-4 years of age, many people (about 60% of the world’s population) stop producing lactase. Without lactase, we cannot properly digest the lactose in milk. As a result, people may experience symptoms like cramping, bloating, flatulence, nausea and diarrhoea when they consume too much milk or milk products (like cheese or yogurt).
Foods including yoghurt, kefir, sour cream and cheese are cultured. This means that a lot of the lactose is broken down by the bacteria or enzymes in the product, making them easier to digest.
The bigger issue is the proteins in dairy. Casein and whey are the two primary proteins found in milk, with casein accounting for over 80% of the protein in milk. Approximately 30% of the protein in milk is beta-casein - A1 and A2 types.
According to Lara Briden, Naturopathic doctor and women’s health activist with over 20 years of clinical experience;
*Casomorphins act like opiates in the body and can target opiate receptors in the brain. Some people feel “addicted” to dairy because of casomorphins.
A clinical sign that can confirm the need to avoid A1 casein is a history of recurrent upper respiratory infections in childhood. Either ear infections, bronchitis or tonsillitis. Immune disruption by A1 casein can worsen those childhood conditions, and then in adulthood, the same immune disruption can drive other inflammatory conditions (Lara Briden).
My advice is this. If you are allergic to the proteins in dairy, then avoid all dairy completely. If you’re unsure if your child has an allergy to dairy, then see your GP or paediatrician for a referral to have this tested.
If your child seems able to tolerate dairy, then stick with A2 milk. Milk that has predominantly or exclusively A2 casein is fine for most people. Goat’s milk and milk from Jersey cows is A2 so is generally well tolerated by most. Dairy products that are mostly fat (such as butter) are also generally well tolerated.
What I would caution you about with regards to milk consumption is to use it sparingly. I see a lot of children in my clinic who drink cups of milk and then refuse to eat their more nutritious meals. This is why I don’t recommend anything but water as the main drink for toddlers and young children.
The best way to ensure your child is getting all of the nutrients they need for strong healthy bones, teeth, growth and development, is to feed them a wide variety of whole foods. Here is a list of foods that are rich in all of the nutrients I've mentioned in this article;
If you'd like to know how I can help you with your child's growth and development, you can book a FREE 20 minute phone consultation with me here.
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