Removing the Mystery of Milks

Removing the Mystery of Milks

Does the dairy fridge of the supermarket send your head into a spin? Then there’s the long-life selection of milk and milk alternatives. How the heck do you decide what is “right” for your child when the choice seems to expand on a weekly basis? Is Almond milk ok for my toddler? What’s the latest when it comes to the skim milk versus low-fat milk versus full-cream milk debate? So many questions, here’s hoping you can gain a few of the answers here.

What is the difference?

Compared to cow’s milk, plant and legume based milk products (e.g. rice, coconut and soy) naturally contain a lower volume of protein and smaller range of vitamins and minerals. Legume (i.e. soy) based milks have the most similar protein and energy content to cows milk and often have added vitamins and minerals. Nut and seed (e.g. Almond and coconut) milks tend to have a very low energy and protein content. Many brands do not include added vitamins and minerals and essentially some brands are little more than water with a small amount (about 5-10%) of the said ingredient.

When it comes to the difference between breastmilk (or formula) and cow’s milk, each contain a similar calorie and protein content. Breastmilk and formula have the added bonus of a wider range of vitamins and minerals than cow’s milk and that are essential for infants. As a child starts to eat a wider range of food (usually around 12 months) they get the extra vitamins and minerals from their food and do not require the extra vitamins and minerals from breastmilk or formula.

What milk and when for kids?

Breastmilk (or formula if unable to breastfeed) is recommended as the sole source of nutrition for the first 4-6 months of life. This is recommended to continue until at least 12 months of age together with solids. From 12 months and assuming a child is eating a wide-range of foods, full-cream milk as a drink can be introduced and formula ceased. Breastfeeding can continue as long as a mother desires so long as the child doesn’t “fill-up” on milk and avoid eating solids. Reduced fat milk or lower energy milks such as the rice, coconut or skimmed soy varieties are not recommended at this time. These milks have a low energy content and potential to not meet the caloric requirements of fast growing little humans. Unless a child has a diagnosed food allergy, cow’s milk is recommended for at least the first 5 years of life. Full-fat varieties until 2 years of age then reduced fat thereafter. If non-animal milk is a family’s preference then soy milk with added vitamins and minerals is the next best choice.

What to look for if buying a cow’s milk alternative

If you prefer to buy a cow’s milk alternative aim for a beverage that contains:

  • Added calcium- check the nutrition panel and aim for > 120mg per 100mL
  • Adequate protein- check the nutrition panel and aim for at least 3g per 100mL
  • A little bit of fat- check the nutrition panel and aim for 2-4g per 100mL


  • Different brands contain different ingredients so best to check the label and compare products.
  • Most organic brands do not have added calcium

What about raw milk?

Pasteurisation is a process that heats milks to a temperature that kills bacteria that can cause disease or even death if consumed by humans. Children and pregnant women are particularly at risk of getting sick from these bacteria. Even good food hygiene procedures won’t stop these bacteria from causing harm. Milk that isn’t pasteurised is called Raw Milk. Raw milk is not permitted to be sold in most States but sometimes can be found from alternative food suppliers. Raw milk is certainly not recommended to be consumed by infants, toddlers or children and it safests for all to avoid.

In summary, there are many things to think about when you’re in the milk section of a supermarket. When it comes to kids, the message of cow’s milk, full-cream until 2 years and reduced fat thereafter remains true.

This article has been written By Renae Reid, Paediatric and Disability Service Dietitian with a Masters in Nutrition and Dietetics, and a Bachelor of Applied Science in Nutrition & Food. She can be contacted via www.ambrosiadiet.com.au