What’s milk? Technically, it’s produced in the mammary glands for its intended recipient: the calf, kid, or human. We are the only species that drinks the milk of another, and nutritionally, that’s because milk combines protein, fat, sugar, vitamins and minerals. One of the most important naturally-occurring minerals in milk is the calcium that makes bones strong.
The word milk can also be used to describe any whitish substance. This explains almond milk, soy milk, rice milk and coconut milk. Overseas, the term “milk” is reserved for milk from animals; anything else is a “drink.”
Almond milk is made by soaking almonds in water, grinding them up, straining the liquid from them and then adding a sweetener. Similarly, soy milk, rice milk, and coconut milk are made by blending, straining and mixing with water.
Food is food. But we like new tastes, and at the store, new generates buzz. New sells. This explains the parade from soy to rice to almond to coconut. For children with food allergies, these drinks provide safe alternatives. Many of these products are fortified and supplemented to mimic the nutritional behavior of milk in the diet.
Human infants thrive on human breast milk. Commercial infant formulas are manufactured from cow milk, soy beans, and for the baby with allergies, amino acids, fat and carbohydrates. Cow milk and commercial drinks cannot meet the nutritional needs of babies. Similarly, children between their first and second birthdays cannot complete critical neurological development without the right amount of fat and protein.
After the second birthday, nutritionists recommend a heart healthy diet for kids with fat-free dairy products to protect heart and bones. Dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese provide essential amino acids and calcium. From birth to 3 years your child needs 500 mg of calcium a day, from 4 years to 9 years aim for 800 mg a day, and after the 9th birthday, it’s 1300 mg a day.
For comparison, one glass (8 ounces/240 ml) of nonfat cow milk contains about 300 mg of calcium and 8 grams of protein. Check labels when offering soy, rice, almond and coconut drinks: some contain no protein, others can have a lot more fat. Many are calcium-fortified. Keep in mind that homemade soy, rice, almond and coconut drinks won’t be fortified.