It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, or a nutritional expert for that matter, to know that you should tell your kids to lay off of the soda, slurpies and energy drinks. However, finding the healthier alternatives could be a little more challenging than you think.
So a group of experts from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) the American Heart Association, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, recently got together to produce and publish a set of guidelines entitled, Healthy Drinks, Healthy Kids.”
The take-away? Cut down on sugary sodas, juices and the like, which should come as no surprise. However, what was surprising is that the panel favored breast milk or cow’s milk for babies and youngsters instead of trendy “plant-based milks,” such as soy or almond milk.
“As a pediatrician, I know what a child drinks can be almost as important as what they eat, in terms of a healthy diet. This is especially true for very young children,” said Dr. Natalie Muth, in a press release that accompanied the new guidelines. Dr. Muth represented the AAP on the expert panel.
“We know that children learn what flavors they prefer at a very early age — as young as 9 months — and these preferences can last through childhood and adulthood,” she added. “That’s why it’s important to set them on a healthy course, and this guide will help parents and caregivers do that.”
Here are the expert panel’s recommendations by age, from birth to age 5:
- 0-6 months: Breast milk is best, or use infant formula.
- 6 to 12 months: Stick with breast milk or formula, and as baby starts to take in solid foods, try introducing water so your infant gets used to the taste. Avoid fruit juices — it offers no nutrient boost compared to whole fruit, the experts said.
- 1 to 2 years: Now’s the time to add in whole milk, and more water, to your child’s diet. Fruit juice — and only 100% “real” juice — can be given in small amounts, although, again, whole fruit is better.
- 2 to 5 years: Stick with milk and water, and move kids to skim or 1% milk. A small amount of 100% juice is OK.
Conspicuously missing from the recommended dinks are “plant-based” milks such as rice, soy, or almond milks.
“In the last five t0 10 years there has been an explosion of interest in plant-based milk. More and more parents are turning to them for a variety of reasons and there’s a misconception that they are equal somehow to cow or dairy milk, but that’s just not the case,” Megan Lott, deputy director at Healthy Eating Research, explained to CNN.
Lott, who helped devise the new guidelines, stressed that plant-based milk products simply don’t have enough of the crucial nutrients — such as vitamin D and calcium — that children can gain from cow’s milk.
So the only exceptions to the guideline might be if a child is lactose intolerant, or if a family is strictly vegan or has religious rules against cow’s milk.