Rice milk is made from brown rice and has many of the properties and nutritional benefits of the whole grain. It is free of casein and lactose and is considered the most hypoallergenic of all the milk alternatives. Rice milk is a good choice for people with allergies to nuts.
Like rice itself, rice milk is rich in B vitamins, especially B3, or niacin, and B6, which are essential for metabolism and nervous system function. It is also a source of magnesium, which promotes healthy blood pressure and bowel function. The fat in rice milk is unsaturated and has been shown to lower blood cholesterol.
Rice milk is rich in carbohydrates, with three or four times that of soy milk. Whenever possible, choose an organically grown rice milk. Dilute rice milk with water, because of the high glucose content. Rice milk can be used as a beverage, but it is not a substitute for breast milk or formula.
Almond and Sesame Milks
Almond and sesame milks are nutritionally rich, high-protein, plant-based alternatives to animal milk. They provide high concentrations of vitamin E, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and zinc. These nutrients occur naturally in homemade nut milks; some commercial nut milk varieties are fortified. Nut milk is also a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids and flavonoids, which act as powerful antioxidants that boost immunity and protect against heart disease, many forms of cancer, and other degenerative diseases. It is exceedingly low in saturated fat and calories and contains no cholesterol. Nut milk is both lactose- and casein-free. It does not cause a dramatic rise in blood sugar.
Almond and sesame milks are easy to make. Simply soak 1⁄3 cup of nuts or seeds in 1 cup of water overnight, cook for 15 to 20 minutes, and then blend until creamy. The primary concern with nut milk is nut allergies. Introduce a small first serving to make sure your child does not have a nut allergy. Choose or make organic nut milk when possible, and do not substitute it for breast milk or formula.
Soy milk is a popular cow’s milk alternative because it is low in saturated fat and has no cholesterol. It is also free of lactose and casein, which means it does not cause the allergic reactions that are common with cow’s milk. However, there is some debate about whether soy milk is a healthy alternative, especially for boys, because soy proteins contain isoflavins that can mimic estrogen.
Soybeans made into a liquid form have different properties of balance than do miso, tamari, and even tofu, which have been processed with salt or nigari (a coagulating agent for tofu). It is possible that soy milk can be hard to digest for some babies and children. Soy milk can be used as an occasional beverage, but should not be substituted for breast milk or formula.
Cow’s milk is high in protein, sodium, and potassium. One of the proteins in milk, casein, can cause allergies, excess mucus, and chronic constipation in children. Cow’s milk has a combination of low vitamin C and moderately high calcium, which prevents the body from absorbing iron, and can lead to anemia. Early exposure to cow’s milk has also been linked to type 1 diabetes and obesity in children.
In his book Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, Walter C. Willett, MD, the dean of nutrition at Harvard Medical School, points out that 75 percent of the world’s adult population, including 50 million Americans, cannot digest lactose. The presence of lactose in the diet can cause a variety of digestive problems, including cramping, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, and bloating. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents do not introduce cow’s milk, or cow’s milk products, to children younger than 12 months of age. Furthermore, respected American “baby doctor” Benjamin Spock, MD, revised his recommendations on milk in the final book he published before his death, recommending no cow’s milk for children under the age of two.
Cow’s milk has the chemical makeup that meets the nutritional needs of a baby calf, but it does not replace the nutritional needs of breast milk or formula for the first year of a baby’s life. If you choose to introduce cow’s milk to your child after the age of one, make sure you choose organic whole cow’s milk. Skim milk and low-fat milk are high in salt and protein and lack fats and nutrients that create a sense of satiation. Non-organic milk and milk products also contain recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) to promote milk production and antibiotics to fight infections in the cows.
Goat’s milk is less allergenic than cow’s milk, and it has higher quantities of health-supporting fatty acids, such as linoleic fatty acid. Goat’s milk can be a healthy, nutritional liquid food for babies over the age of six months, but goat’s milk has drawbacks, too. Infants should not consume goat’s milk as a replacement for breast milk or formula.
The primary concern about goat’s milk is its protein content, which is even higher than that of cow’s milk. Once in the bloodstream, protein turns into acid, which must be processed and eliminated by the kidneys. The high protein content of goat’s milk can put stress on the immature kidneys of babies and young children.
Goat’s milk may be a supplement to the diets of toddlers and adolescents, but it is not recommended for infants as a substitute for breast milk or infant formula. Most goat farmers do not use antibiotics and growth hormones, but you still may want to look for goat’s milk that is organic or certified antibiotic- and growth hormone-free.