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This video blog is a long time coming because it's such a common question from parents, and rightly so. There's a ton of contradictory information on the topic of cow dairy and whether or not it should be the first choice after weaning from breast milk or formula. Your pediatrician tells you one thing, but you read another, and then your experience tells you something entirely different. So what's a parent to do?
My best advice is to do your own research and then ultimately listen to your gut, but I'm here to share what's worked for us.
Disclaimer: Before I get into it, if you are giving your child cow's milk or you gave your child cow's milk and they're all grown up and doing great, please don't feel bad about my post. You've done your best, and I have no doubt, you're doing what works for your family. This post is NOT intended to make you feel bad about your choices – I'm simply here to inform. Heck, until I was around 10 years old, we'd have a glass of milk with dinner because this kind of information wasn't available and my parents just didn't know. They were following their doctor's advice and Canada's Food Guide at the time. Once I stopped drinking cow's milk (in my 20s), I immediately looked less puffy, my digestion improved and some aches and pains I had disappeared too.
If you look to Canada's Food Guide to see how it was updated, you'll notice it was recently revamped and dairy was removed as a food group. In fact, the food groups were removed entirely in favour of showing a balanced plate of healthy food. This is great to see because dairy is simply not a requirement to be healthy!
That being said, if you dig a little deeper into the food guide, the government is still recommending homo milk cow's milk for babies and toddlers and infant cereal as a suggestion for a first food. The cow milk recommendation is misguided when you consider a whopping 60–65% of people cannot even digest the main milk sugar in milk. And infant cereal, a highly processed grain cereal, as an ideal first food? Oh boy.
If you need some suggestions for baby food introduction, I have a wonderful post here. Vienna's first food was actually bone broth and her first solid food was avocado. She LOVED bone broth, but avocado took a little to get used to. Now, she absolutely loves avocado, especially The Everything Guac or this Creamy Avocado Pasta.
This brings me to my latest video where I share why I don't recommend cow dairy to children and why it's just not necessary. I have summarized my points below.
Here's a brief summary of the points I talk about in my video.
1. Despite what television commercials have told us, there's no evidence that milk does the body good. In countries such as India, Japan and Peru where calcium consumption doesn't exceed 300 mg per day, they have the lowest incidence of bone fractures. Those countries with the highest rates of dairy consumption have the highest rates of fractures. These studies don't paint the full picture, but they do call our dairy consumption into question.
2. Homogenization and pasteurization are not good things. Homogenization changes the natural structure of the fat globules. There's no nutritional benefit to homogenized milk – it's purely for aesthetic reasons – and it makes up 99.9% of the milk sold in grocery stores. When milk is homogenized it's pushed through a filter at an insanely high pressure, which makes the fat globules 10 times smaller and allows them to be evenly dispersed.
The image on the left is before homogenization and the image on the right shows the after. You can see how the structure of the fat has been altered. These teeny tiny fat molecules can now bypass proper digestion all together and are one of the main reasons many people can consume skim milk but not milk with any fat, because their fat-digesting enzymes can't easily break down this fat.
Depending on your age, you might recall glass milk bottles that had a schlop of fat at the top – that would have been non-homogenized milk, so if you're going to drink milk, look for that stuff.
Homogenization also alters the proteins in the milk and may even trigger autoimmune diseases. This could be why many people find relief from their autoimmune conditions when they eliminate dairy, among other reasons.
Pasteurization is a whole other beast. It kills all the microorganisms (good and bad) and most of the nutrients. Good bacteria actually aids in the digestion of the milk sugars, which is why many people can't tolerate cow milk but can eat yogurt with no problem because there are beneficial microbes. Of course, the advantage is that the bad bacteria are removed. Pasteurization diminishes the vitamins in milk such as B6, B12 and vitamin C. Ironically, there have been more reports of food poisoning over the years from pasteurized milk compared to raw milk.
3. Protein in cow milk is made up of mostly A1 casein protein, among other proteins. This milk protein is inflammatory to the body and the cause of milk allergies. As I discuss in my video there is far less casein A1 in goat and sheep milk, which is predominantly A2 protein, making it a better option if you still want to give your child dairy milk. Research has shown that dairy is implicated with eczema and acne. If your child suffers from either condition, I recommend you remove all forms of dairy from their diet.
4. 65% of the world's population is lactose intolerant. That's roughly 4.8 billion people who do not have the enzyme necessary to digest lactose, the main milk sugar. Interestingly, choosing fermented dairy instead that contains a strain of microbes called lactobacillus acidophilus aids in the digestion of lactose. This is why people who can't tolerate cow milk may be fine with fermented dairy products like kefir or yogurt.
5. Calcium is important for bone and teeth health. Due to the dairy industry's influence, many have been led to believe that cow milk is the only source of calcium when in fact, milk is only one of many sources of calcium. Also keep in mind that yes, calcium is important for bone health but vitamin D is just as important.
It is important to get calcium on a daily basis through the diet. There are many non-dairy sources of calcium including:
Knowing all this, you may wonder, but what about raw milk? In Canada, it's not legal to sell or buy raw milk, but you're correct in thinking that it would be far more nutritious.
My final thoughts are if you're going to consume milk, look for certified organic, grass-fed non-homogenized milk.
Organic milk has been found in research to have lower pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids and higher omega-3 fatty acid. That's a good thing!
I know this is a lot of information to digest, and if you're a parent reading this, there's no right or wrong answer. Simply take some time to evaluate this information as well as the guidance from other nutrition experts, and you'll come to the best decision for your family.
Any questions, please post below!
Ps In case you're wondering, my favourite milk for a latte or a smoothie is either almond milk, cashew or oat milk. Oat milk has a very neutral and it's my current favourite at the moment.
My kids love having milk, they get a small amount 3x a day...What can I replace it with that they may not notice a difference?Reply
It depends on what your budget is really. Goat and sheep milk are great alternatives but if you're looking for a non-dairy alternative there are plenty of options from oat milk to almond or coconut. Just keep in mind the non-dairy milk unless fortified do not provide adequate nutrition and it's important to make sure your kids are getting calcium from other foods such as the ones listed in my video.
Hey Joy! I was wondering about what type of dairy you would recommend for teens, specifically for ones who are competive athletes. Would it be okay to do cows milk or would you recommend another type? If I do cows milk should it be organic and grass fed? Also it would be very helpful if you could share the best types of store bought yogurts and cheeses (dairy products) in the future.Thank you so much and I would love it if you could get back to me... thanks again!Reply
Hi Gracie, thanks for your question. Honestly, for a healthy athletic teen, milk is simply not necessary. In fact, many vegan athletes are proof of this. Not that I'm suggesting a teen turn vegan, I simply want to point out that people thrive without dairy.
For yogurt and butter, grass-fed dairy is ideal and next would be organic. If you can find grass-fed and organic together, then even better but it's harder to find a product that is both. If I had to choose between grass-fed yogurt and organic, I would choose grass-fed.
As for cheese, I like L'Ancentre or Organic Meadow for cheeses and then I go to my local cheese shop for sheep and goat milk products. Kefir made with dairy or a non-dairy milk is highly beneficial to the gut because it's rich in lactic bacteria.
I don't buy cow dairy-based yogurts or kefirs because they bother my daughter's tummy so I buy coconut milk based yogurt by Enjoyoso and she loves it!
Hi Joy, When you suggest to "remove dairy", do you mean remove milk? Or remove milk and fermented milk products altogether? Another question regarding the allergenicity of cow milk proteins: a physician has told me that it is not the A1 casein or other cow milk proteins per se which are allergenic, but the fact that most cows are fed soy. Certain allergenic amino acids originating from soy are then found in cow milk. Do you think it is true? Many thanks, FlorenceReply
No, I don't mean all forms of dairy - not sure if you watched the video but it will provide more clarity on that point. My advice is that parents simply do not need to give their child cow's milk in order for them to thrive. That being said, there are absolute benefits to other forms of dairy.
I agree that what cow's are fed will impact the health of the milk they produce which is why a grass-fed/pasture raised cow will produce LESS inflammatory milk than a conventional and be richer in omega-3s. But to say that A1 casein protein is not an allergenic problematic protein for many is simply inaccurate and they are likely not in the know of the research on this. Perhaps what they meant is that cow milk from a grass-fed cow is better overall. :)
Great post!! Thank you! Definitely saving this to hopefully use in the future. I’m hoping you do a post on the best options if breastfeeding is not an option (ie, adopted infant)Reply
Glad you found the post helpful! Yes for sure, that's a really great topic about what to do if you can't breastfeed.
So is the milk itself bad or the process to homogenize and pasteurize? People eat animal products all the time and nobody says a thing. Why does milk get such a bad rep?Reply
Hi Susan, it is a combination of factors why many people don't thrive consuming milk. Hope you've had a chance to watch my video and read my post where I explain how both homogenization and pasteurization work and how they affect the end product. Milk likely has a bad reputation because for a large majority of people because when they stop consuming it, their symptoms go away whether that be painful joints, congestion, sinus infections, ear infections etc. Hope that helps.
I love all of your information and appreciate the research behind it! Rebecca, RN, IBCLCReply
Thanks for your comment Rebecca!
What do you recommend for a baby you are weaning from Similac alimentum?Reply
Not sure if you read my post but it's not necessary to wean with anything dairy-based if you don't want to. If your child is eating plenty of food during the day and getting adequate calories their hydration can come from water assuming your child is over 1 year old. Hope that helps!
Lots of great information! While I do love cheese and kefir, I find that so much of the yogurt out there is hard on my stomach. I don’t think I’ve had a glass of milk since I was a very young toddler, I just never liked it. My daughter is lactose intolerant and while she tries to avoid most dairy, she’s not 100% dairy free. Her symptoms have gotten worse in the past couple years since being diagnosed so I think we will both look at being more “cow dairy” free and trying out more goat, sheep, and plant based alternatives.Reply
Plant-based alternatives are a great idea because keep in mind there will still be lactose in sheep and goat milk but there is little lactose in cheese and aged cheeses will have hardly any at all. However, if you're noticing your daughter still has trouble with dairy then she likely has a food sensitivity or an allergy to the dairy proteins present in cow/goat/sheep in addition to lactose intolerance so just something to be mindful of so it's better off to avoid them all :) Hope that helps and thanks for reading!
Hi Joy! My daughter is 9 months, I have not and don’t plan on giving her cow milk or products (currently she is breastfed and eating solids) but I do want to introduce yogurt can you recommend some good non dairy brands for babies? And is this the age to introduce cheese as well? If yes can you recommend some good companies and types. Thanks Joy!Reply
For coconut yogurt I buy Enjoyoso and for coconut kefir I love Kefir Kult https://www.kefirkultures.com/ which I just recently discovered. For cheese, we shop at the Cheese Boutique for goat and sheep cheese and when we are at the health food store we buy Organic Meadow or L'Ancetre for cow dairy cheeses. And yes, you can introduce dairy to your baby at this point. You can read more about baby food intro in this post: https://www.joyoushealth.com/24657-blog-baby-food-introduction
Great stuff! Thanks for sharing :)Reply
Hi Joy You mentioned black strap molasses has calcium but I once had a holistic nutritionist state that it’s not good to consume black strap molasses. She said it can damage the gut Is this true and is there any evidence or research ?Reply
I've never heard that before but that doesn't mean it's not true. I would ask them to provide you with research or evidence to that effect as blackstrap molasses has many healing benefits. It's used in very small amounts similar to how you would use maple syrup or raw honey.
Hi Joy! Does organic, grass fed, non homogenized milk exist in Canada? What brands if any?Reply
Hi Lisa, you'd have to check your health food store. Check out Rolling Meadow or Harmony Organic. I don't know if they are organic but grass-fed is a good option and non-homogenized if you can find it. However, for the cost associated with drinking milk regularly and it really not being necessary for a child to thrive, I would just omit it from their diet.
Love this information but since raw milk is hard to come by, what’s another alternative? Is unsweetened almond milk suitable for a 1 year old?Reply
Yes, that's totally fine. However, I would still cycle the non-dairy milk to prevent the development of any food sensitivity. So if you're doing smoothies and recipes with almond milk one week, when that bottle is done switch it up to oat milk or rice milk.
Great info Joy! A question on taste: is sheep’s milk as “strong” as goat’s milk?Reply
That's a great question and no it's definitely not. I'm not personally a fan of goat milk or goat yogurt (although my daughter loves it) I just find it too strong sheep is much more mild of a flavour.
Hi Joy, Thanks so much for sharing this information. Loved your video as well. My son LOVES milk. Yes, I know tisk tisk lol, but I’m sure I represent a large portion of the population who just isn’t informed :( So again, thank you for this info! It makes total sense and you did a great job explaining it. Any brands of say almond or coconut milk I should look for/avoid? I know you said fortified - will that be clearly marked on most packaging? Grateful, Jenn.Reply
My pleasure Jenn! The best brands of non-dairy milks are typically the refrigerated ones because they have fewer additives. I'm not a huge fan of fortified milks because I rather children (and adults alike) get their nutrition from whole foods as opposed to synthetic nutrients in these products. I really like a brand called Mylko and I also like Earth's Own and some of the So Delicious ones too. For canned coconut milk in recipes I like Cha's Organics. Hope that helps!
Hi Joy! Did you do goats milk just for ease of bedtime or for the calcium? We’re dairy free because I feel terrible for those poor animal Mamas, not being about to see or breastfeed their own babies :( but I do think about the calcium with my kids, 15 mo (breastfed) and 4. We eat a LOT of veggies and smoothies though, but haven’t been rotating our nut milks. Could our kids develop an allergy if drinking too much almond milk? Thank you!Reply
We did it just for ease of bedtime. However, it sounds like your children are getting lots of variety. If you're still unsure I would suggest talking with an ND or certified nutritionist who can help you assess if they are getting enough calcium into your diet. And I wouldn't stress too much about it, but starting sooner rather than later I would just make sure you mix up the types of non-dairy milks. Hope that helps!
This was very helpful. You said it, it’s frustrating and confusing. Just home from the paediatrician (my son’s 18 month check up) and when I told her I’m still breastfeeding and not giving cow’s milk, she said it may be time to stop breastfeeding as his weight is low. He’s been on the small side since the beginning. He doesn’t like goats milk but I do use it to make smoothies and he doesn’t like yogurt - I’ve tried all kinds. Cheese is iffy, he likes some. He’s a good eater, I make sure to include lots of fats. I breastfeed 3 times per day and certainty don’t count those times as meals. Doctor said that the goats milk doesn’t have the necessary folate and that I should be giving vitamin D (I am). Anyway, not really a question here, more of a comment in frustration / confusion. We have to go back in 3 months to check his weight and I think I’ll just tell the doc I have stopped breastfeeding and am giving cow’s milk. Thanks for the info, looking forward to more kid posts... meal and snack ideas too 👍😃Reply
That does sound frustrating. I think the key thing to remember is that we don't need milk to thrive. I have dozens of friends with kids both young and grown-up who never had cow's milk and they are doing great! Doctor's are going to recommend what the government guidelines are and these guidelines simply do not work for everyone.
Hey Joy! I was wondering if you still consumed cows milk products such as cows milk Kiefer, cheeses, and yogurts? Would you recommend consuming these or something else as an alternative such as these products with goats milk instead?Reply
I eat cow cheese in moderation and I typically buy coconut kefir because I prefer the taste. We don't buy cow yogurt cause it bothers my daughter's tummy and mind quite a bit. However, if you can digest kefir and yogurt then that's great - they are rich in good bacteria.
Thank you for this summary!!! You gave me all of the information I needed to have a productive conversation with my RD about transitioning my 1 yr old son to milk. We decided on Ripple’s pea milk combined with a diet high in fat, calcium, and iron! Thank you!!!Reply
Excellent! Glad to hear it helped.