Nutrition plays a vital role in childhood development. Studies have proven time and time again that the foods children eat—or those they do not eat—can impact their growth. Although necessary for your food-allergic child’s health, the elimination of foods in children with food allergies may lead to the loss of key nutrients. It is possible that this risk is heightened in children whose dietary restrictions require the removal of dairy products. According to one new research study, development in children can be adversely affected by not drinking cow’s milk—even more so than their peers who have other types of food allergies.
Does Milk Really do a Body Good?
Cow’s milk provides a number of nutrients that are essential to growing bodies with developing bones, which is why kids age four to eight should drink at least two and a half cups of milk each day, as recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. One 8-ounce glass of cow’s milk offers several important nutrients for a child’s development, including iodine, protein, potassium, phosphorus, calcium and vitamins B2 and B12. Many of these nutrients are important, especially during periods of growth spurts.
Kids Who Don’t Drink Cow’s Milk May be Smaller
A recent chart study by the Children’s National Health System supports the concern that children who avoid cow’s milk may be developmentally impacted. The research determined that children who have persistent cow’s milk allergies were more likely to be smaller in stature through preadolescence than their peers who were allergic to tree nuts and peanuts.
Researchers involved in the study calculated the mean differences in weight, height and body mass index (BMI) of 191 participants, based on information obtained from clinical visits. Researchers also took into account any comorbid conditions including seasonal allergies, asthma, eczema, food allergies and use of inhalers.
The most pronounced deficits in growth occurred in children who were allergic to cow’s milk. The kids who fell in the five-to-eight and nine-to-12 year-old categories displayed the most pronounced results.
Getting Proper Nutrition for Your Milk-Allergic Child
Many parents of children who have an allergy to cow’s milk worry about difficulty in attaining adequate nutrition for their children. This problem is exacerbated because an astounding amount of food options include the notice on the label: “may contain milk.” Finding foods that include some of the vitamins and minerals needed by growing children can prove to be overwhelming. If you are concerned about your children’s development, rest assured that there are plenty of options to get them the vitamins and minerals they need to support her growth.
You can choose food substitutes to ensure your child replaces nutrients they may be missing through the elimination of cow’s milk or other dairy products from their diet. Some may be easier to incorporate than others. Protein is easy to add in to your child’s diet. For protein, opt for foods like poultry, eggs, other meats, nuts, fish and legumes. Your child can get iodine by eating potatoes, yogurt, cranberries and strawberries. Potassium is found in beans, bananas, kiwi and watermelon.
Calcium can be a little trickier, as your child may need to eat a number of non-dairy foods, sometimes more than a child is capable of eating. For example, a child who needs 500 milligrams of calcium each day needs to eat as much as four cups of leafy greens to get as much calcium as is in a four-ounce cup of milk. Calcium fortified foods, such as orange juice, may be an easier option for your child.
Milk alternatives are good choices for meeting some of these nutrition requirements as well. For example, soy milk has calcium, riboflavin and vitamins A and D, both which are important for childhood growth and development. Coconut milk is high in vitamins B1, B3, B5, B6, C and E, while almond milk is full of vitamin E.
Some children will do well with, and may even require, supplements to meet their nutrition requirements. Contact a nutritionist or your healthcare provider to determine what is best for your milk-allergic child.
Just because your child cannot have cow’s milk does not mean that they can’t obtain all of the nutrition they need to grow. Rest assured that you can provide them with what they need to develop, even if they can’t have dairy.