Why milk substitutes may not be suitable for kids

Experts claim milk substitutes contain entirely distinct nutritional values that cannot replace those in dairy milk or breast milk.

With the rise in the number of individuals suffering from lactose intolerance to lactose and other allergy issues, there has been a steady increase in the number of plant-based milk beverage substitutes available in the global marketplace.

Additionally, one of the factors that has given traction to the consumption of these milk substitutes is the presumption that they actually provide an equal amount of nutrients as dairy milk in similar serving quantities.

So what exactly does a plant-based milk substitute refer to?

Simply put, it refers to a milk substitute beverage or product produced from plant sources that include oats, soy, peas, cashew nuts, almonds and coconut, among others.

Are milk substitutes a suitable replacement for dairy milk?

Experts have claimed that milk substitutes contain entirely distinct nutritional values that cannot replace those in dairy milk or breast milk.

In fact, experts say that coconut milk, rice milk and other plant-based milks are not suitable for children below the age of five in replacement of dairy milk.

This is because dairy milk contains calcium as well as vitamin D, vitamin B12, potassium, and protein.

In other words, it’s like a “putting all grocery store goods into one basket” of essential nutrients for the healthy growth and development of children.

In stark contrast, non-dairy milk substitutes (apart from enriched soy milk) do offer nutritional value, but it is believed to actually destroy nutrients that can be absorbed by healthy drinks if consumed by children.

Zero nutritional balance

Generally, some milk substitute products possess either one of the following extremes – a calorie amount that is high or excessive for milk products, too much or too little fat content, or a high carbohydrate content.

If these doesn’t scare you enough, then two other ingredients might. The first is Genetically-modified organisms (GMO). GMOs contain glyphosate, a carcinogen.

Secondly, carrageenan – a derivative of red seaweed which is added to foods to thicken their texture and prevent separation. Studies have linked carrageenan to gut irritation, inflammation and even cancer.

Many plant-based milk substitutes contain glyphosate or carrageenan, two known carcinogens.

Although certain companies have adopted GMO and carrageenan-free approaches in the preparation of milk substitutes, there are others who still include these ingredients in their products.

More worryingly, a milk substitute could potentially contain high amounts of sugar or artificial sweeteners.

High sugar content contributes to a variety of chronic disease risks, which include obesity and heart disease, as well as inflammation and high blood pressure.

This however, is slightly better than the consumption of sodas that contain marginally higher levels of sugar.

Certain milk substitutes would have possibly been enriched with nutritional content in order to make it “healthier” and more appealing to the masses, as compared to other milk alternatives.

But in actuality, the additional nutrient composition does not necessarily provide your body with the required vitamins and minerals in the same way dairy milk does.

According to some experts, this is because your body may not be able to absorb nutrients from plant-based milks the same way it does with dairy milk.

Why this is so is a direct consequence of the way the human body processes food or liquids, which is to break each one down individually.

Based on that theory, therefore, it has been found that the structure and component of dairy milk, when pitted against a milk substitute, makes its nutritional content more “bioavailable” to the body.


For children ages five and below who might be suffering from an intolerance to lactose, or an allergy to dairy milk, a milk substitute could possibly be one of the options to consider in order to help your child obtain the necessary nutrition requirements.

However, do seek the advice of a paediatrician or certified nutritionist before providing your child with any milk substitute beverages.

This article first appeared on Hello Doktor and was medically reviewed by the Hello Doktor Medical Panel. The Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.