Got (the right) milk?


From Lisa Barnes

We’ve all heard the slogan, “milk, it does a body good” – but what kind of milk? While some milk is fine for some, many others, especially children are allergic or intolerant from their first drink. An estimated 30 million Americans have some kind of lactose (the milk sugar in all dairy products) intolerance, and more than 100,000 babies are thought to suffer from milk allergies.There is a difference between lactose intolerance and milk allergies.

Children with lactose intolerance are deficient in lactase, an enzyme produced internally to break down lactose. This can result in stomache aches, gas and diarrhea. However children allergic to milk have reactions to some or all of the proteins: casein, whey, and lactalbumin. The adverse effects can cause gastric problems as well as skin issues such as rash, and eczema, and nasal distress such as runny nose and congestion. These reactions can come as soon as babies are breastfed (by mothers ingesting dairy products) or given milk based formulas. Babies are more likely to be born with a milk allergy vs. a lactose intolerance.

The good news is that most children outgrow a milk allergy by the age of 4, according to Paul Ehrlich, M.D., pediatrician, allergist and clinical assistant professor at New York University School of Medicine. Plus he says, “the more attentive you are to keeping milk out of your children’s diet, the sooner the allergy with go away.” Although this is not always easy as cow’s milk and other dairy products are in many processed and packaged foods under the ingredient names: whey, casein, lactalbumin, caramel color, and nougat, among others. Thus it is important to read labels to avoid reactions. Organizations such as the Food Allergy Network, as well as nutritionists can help you identify and steer clear of hidden dangers.

Today many people are asking which milk is the best choice for their families and children. Some households have more than one kind of milk (I know mine has organic fat free, organic 2 percent and organic vanilla soy)and milk alternative to satisfy different ages, dietary restrictions, and tastes. In addition to considering the various cow’s milk alternatives, many parents of children who can drink cow’s milk are buying organic brands to minimize the exposure of the hormone bovine somatotropin (bST) or recombinant bovine growth hormone (rbGH), which some pediatricians and nutritionists suspect as an agent of premature development in children. Another option some parents are choosing for their children and families is raw milk as some believe it is healthier than pasteurized and homogenized milks. However there is debate over the safety and quality of raw milk.

So what milk or milk alternative should you buy? Here are some options. And no matter which brand or alternative you try, choose those with fortified calcium, magnesium and vitamin B-12, which makes cow’s milk such a nutritional giant. Here are some cow’s milk alternatives:

  • Almond Milk
    Not high in protein (only two grams per 8 ounces, as compared with 8 grams in cow’s milk) this naturally sweet beverage does have some beneficial fats and calcium. Because of the smooth and creamy texture it also works well for cooking and baking. Almond milk is not an alternative for those with nut allergies.
  • Goat Milk
    Coat’s milk has only slightly less lactose than cow’s milk, making it an inappropriate alternative to those with intolerance. However it does have different proteins from cow’s milk, so may be a good choice for some with allergies. Goat’s milk is slightly sweet and salty with a fat level and consistency similar to whole cow’s milk.
  • Rice Milk
    This is the least allergenic milk alternative, as it is suitable for children with milk intolerance and allergies. However it is lower in protein and much thinner in consistency than cow’s milk. Young children not getting enough protein from food sources, should not substitute rice milk.
  • Oat Milk
    Oat milk is high in fiber however low in protein. Oat milk has a slightly sweet taste and light consistency. It is highly tolerated by most kids who have soy, rice and milk allergies. However it is not acceptable for children with celiac disease or other wheat and gluten intolerances and allergies.
  • Soy Milk
    This is high in protein and the most popular cow’s milk alternative. If you’re a vegetarian, or if your baby has trouble digesting cow’s milk protein, the doctor may suggest a soy-based formula. Although between 5 and 30 percent of children with a cow’s milk allergy are also allergic to soy – thus it is not an option for everyone. Recent research and questions have arisen over soy’s phytoestrgen levels and possible link to interferance with children’s hormonal and sexual development. Some pediatrician’s caution not to give more than 2 serving a day to children.
  • When in doubt about milk, formula, allergies or intolerances, talk to your pediatrician or consult a nutritionist to help guide you to the safest choices for your family’s needs.
    Lisa Barnes is author of The Petit Appetit Cookbook
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