My Toddler Doesn't Drink Milk

1:13 PM

My toddler doesn’t drink milk.

Has ever a better nomination for worst mom/nutritionist of the year been submitted?

Milk, this revered and celebrated thing. This ubiquitous and necessary thing.

Promoted with towering billboards of celebrities sporting white mustaches and free calendars that show up in your mailbox innocently featuring dairy-laden recipes.  

We are a culture obsessed with milk, and mothers of toddlers – especially those just graduating from the breast feeding stage – are the worst of all.

Well here is my big announcement of the day: I am content with the fact that Oliver doesn’t drink milk. Proud even. I have raised a little boy who chooses water ten times out of ten.

But let me clarify.

I am not strictly anti-milk. (There’s almost nothing in this world I could consider myself ‘anti-’… maybe just murder, and Monsanto.) In fact, I’m not dairy-free at all. If foods are offered to me containing milk, if they look amazing on a restaurant menu, or if a recipe really calls for it: I’ll use milk. And not to say Oliver doesn’t get his dairy in a day too: full-fat plain yogurt (store-bought, or homemade) and aged white cheddar cheese make their way into our fridge most weeks. He even has chocolate milk when he’s visiting family, and has never passed up an opportunity to fill his mouth with whipped cream.

But I do not offer my son milk to drink. And days can go by that he doesn’t have dairy.

Why? How?

Despite what advertisements, and people you know (including doctors), tell you: milk is not mandatory. There are components of milk that are beneficial, the main ones being protein, vitamin D and calcium. But there are components of many things that are beneficial - spinach contains fiber and iron doesn’t it? Is there a daily recommended servings of spinach? No. Because it doesn’t have a marketing board behind it, paying big bucks to make you feel bad if you don’t make sure your kiddies get what they ‘need’. Believe it or not, there are many ways to get all the nutrients that milk offers, in other ways. And knowing that, I can tell you that a smartly planned, healthy diet can ensure that your child can go straight from breast milk to water and stay that way for life.

(Just for your information: a life lived with water as its own beverage is a little dull. I also recommend drinking mugs and mugs of tea, wildly flavoured fruit smoothies, warm seasoned broths, chilly nut milks, and freshly juiced fruits and vegetables.)

What’s wrong with milk?

For starters, to be specific: milk just means a liquid that a mom makes for their baby. There’s zero wrong with milk. Where things go wrong is that we equate milk with cow milk: milk produced for cattle. (Even goat milk is easier on a person’s digestive system, so you know.) Cow milk comes from massive, corn-fed animals that grow from tiny to enormous in a few weeks. This is achieved through the chemical makeup (and added growth hormones) that their diet provides.  The corn they are fed is almost surely genetically-modified and pesticide treated.

One of the 59 hormones that cow’s milk containers is growth hormone (IGF-1) and it happens to work in humans the same way it works in baby cows. But baby cows are supposed to be growing rapidly: a 25-year old nutritionist is not. (Although I’ve been gaining about a pound a week with this pregnancy.) 

Also, the milk sold in stores must be pasteurized to make it safe by government standards. (You should search the work Michael Schmidt is doing for getting raw milk legalized.) Pasteurization is so high heat that it destroys vitamin C, B12 and B6, as well as beneficial bacteria, and it denatures the milk proteins and enzymes. 

Milk is also not the health food it’s cracked up to be. Fifty-five percent of its calories come from lactose: a sugar.

Here are some other yucky facts: It is allowed to contain feces before it is pasteurized (for 15 seconds). It is also allowed to have 750,000 cells of pus per 1 cubic centimeter, and 20,000 live bacteria. 

Milk can cause a host of issues in many people. Lactose-intolerance is so wide-spread now: interestingly, many of these people can tolerate raw milk just fine because it is rich in the enzymes needed to digest milk. Milk can also be the cause of acid reflux. I find it makes me tired and my throat phlegmy. Try taking a 10-day milk-vacation and see how you feel.

Alright, alright, I believe you, but where will I get my nutrients?

Calcium can be found in many places. In fact, when a ton of different cultures were studied for their dietary intake, the ones that don’t include dairy had lower fracture rates than those that did. That’s from the Harvard School of Public Health. Calcium is abundant in fish with bones, beans, molasses and sesame seeds. In its most natural form, it is found in combination with the co-factors it needs to be absorbed in your bones, and not swim around in your blood increasing risk of arterial plaque. Calcium can also be overdone: kids who drink a lot of milk daily have higher rates of anemia because it blocks iron absorption.

Vitamin D isn’t even a real component of milk – it is added before sale. The funny thing is, vitamin D is fat-soluble so if you’re drinking skim milk you’re likely not even getting the benefits. Vitamin D is plentiful in: outdoor sunshine, eggs, fish, and many high-quality, inexpensive supplements. It’s one of the only tablets I take regularly.

Your day’s protein shouldn’t be coming from milk either, with all the wonderful sources out there. Even if you steer clear of red meat, poultry and seafood, you can still enjoy beans, lentil, nuts, seeds, and tofu.

What do I suggest instead?

Above I’ve listed some foods you can include to make sure you and your family are getting the nutrients you need. I also mentioned that our family still eats full-fat plain yogurt and cheese: these forms of dairy aren’t perfect but they are much more easily digested by most and have a good amount of fat to absorb any fat-soluble vitamins.

If you’re still looking for a chilly, white beverage to fill up your toddler’s cup, or to put the finishing touches on a garlicky béchamel sauce over noodles, look no further than homemade nut or seed milk.*

There are also good alternatives sold in stores if you’d rather not make your own: cartons of almond and coconut milk are ready for the drinking, and rice, oat and hemp milk aren’t bad too.

I don’t recommend including soy milk as a daily part of your diet because soy-overload comes with a host of problems: blocking the absorption of nutrients, disrupting thyroid function and reproductive hormones, and irritating the digestive system.

* Side note: to make nut or seed milk, soak your ingredient of choice in water overnight. In the morning, dump that water and fill your container up with water again, going a few inches over the nuts or seeds. (In a pinch if you forget to overnight soak, I find cashews and sunflower seeds are soft enough, if fresh, to make milk without soaking.) Blend for a few minutes. Strain through a fine sieve or cheese cloth. Add a pinch of sea salt, a splash of vanilla and some stevia, honey or maple syrup to taste, or leave unsweetened. I have made this in under a minute (opting for a very quick blend) when Oliver is desperate for a "hot cocoa".

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