Not Milk? Soy Rice Almond Coconut

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.

About Lisa M. Asta, MD

Lisa M. Asta, M.D. is board-certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, for which she is also a Media Representative (she has been interviewed for “Kids Health” on Health Radio, and quoted in Parenting Magazine, USA Today, and the New York Times, among other publications). She is a Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California at San Francisco and past pediatric chair at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek. She graduated from Temple University School of Medicine and the Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Asta is also a writer whose fiction has appeared in Inkwell, Philadelphia Stories, Schuylkill, and Zeniada. Her essays have appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Hippocrates, the San Jose Mercury News, and The New Physician Magazine. She is an occasional contributor to KQED public radio’s Perspectives series, and has written articles for Bay Area Parent, Valley Parent, Parents’ Press, and Parents Express, as well as online at,, and She wrote a chapter in The Field Guide to the Normal Newborn, ed. Gary Emmet, M.D. currently has two how-to videos for parents in production which feature Dr. Asta. For more on Dr. Asta’s writing, visit
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1 Response to Not Milk? Soy Rice Almond Coconut

  1. Pingback: How tall will your child be? How do you get them there? | Casa Verde Pediatrics, Inc. Blog

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