A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal last week suggests that young children who drink non-dairy milk (e.g. almond, coconut, rice or soy milk) may have lower levels of vitamin D than those who regularly drink cow's milk.
Scientists studied 2,831 children between the ages of one and six, and took many other influential factors (e.g. skin pigment, sun exposure, age, etc.) into consideration in studying the effects of their cow's milk consumption. Ninety percent of the children who participated in the study drank cow's milk, while the remaining 10 percent exclusively drank non-dairy milk.
The researchers found that the participants who did not drink cow's milk were "at higher risk of having a 25-hydroxyvitamin D level below 50 nmol/L." According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), vitamin D levels that hover at or over 50 nmol/L are sufficient for most people, while levels that fall below 30 nmol/L are "too low for bone or overall health."
The New York Times neatly sums up the researchers' findings: "Among children who drank both kinds of milk, each additional cup of milk consumed from another source was associated with a 5 percent decrease in vitamin D level."
This may have a significant impact on overall health, as the NIH suggests, since vitamin D deficiency has been linked to autoimmune disorders, diabetes and hypertension, among other medical problems. The NIH recommends children aged one to eight take a maximum of 2,500 to 3,000 IU/day.
Since many children who drink these non-dairy milks do so for health reasons — like lactose intolerance and/or a casein allergy — it's important to consider the vitamin D deficit this may cause and how it might be compensated for.
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