I’d be curious to hear any research in feeding almond milk (or any alternative such as soy, cashew etc) vs Cows (or any animal) milk. My husband and I drink only almond milk. Are we doing our child a disservice if we offer almond milk rather than cows milk?


Last week, we looked at milk choices for a child who is allergic to both milk and nuts, and decided that soy milk would be the most practical, nutritionally appropriate option. It’s important to remember that it is not imperative that children drink any milk of any kind after infancy (in other words, one year of age). During infancy, breast milk is most desirable, but most babies do just fine growing and developing by drinking cow milk infant formula or, for those allergic or intolerant to cow’s milk, soy formula. (Specialty formulas designed for infants with specific medical conditions are seldom needed and won’t be discussed here.)

From an evolutionary standpoint, humans are the only mammalian species that drinks milk after infancy. Moreover, we are the only species that drinks other species’ milk. (Not because we need to, but because, due to well-developed forebrains and opposable thumbs, we can.) While milk from a cow may be chemically similar to human breast milk, it is not the same. Nutritionally, what a cow’s milk offers is protein, calcium, and water. We expect most toddlers and older children to obtain enough protein, calcium, and water in other foods. (Vitamin D, extremely important for the prevention of rickets, is added to store-bought milk as a public health intervention — it doesn’t exist in great quantities in either cow’s milk or human breast milk.) “You are what you eat” pertains to cows as much as it does people, so we should keep in mind that if a cow ingests pesticides, antibiotics, or environmental pollutants during their lifetimes, chances are you will be ingesting them too if you drink their milk. So once a baby reaches one year of age, pediatricians will encourage moms to continue breastfeeding but will urge formula and bottle weaning to a cup containing either whole milk (or no milk) or water.

Plant-based “milk products” like soy, almond, and coconut milks have gained popularity in recent years among vegans who eschew animal-based foods, people who are intolerant or allergic to cow’s milk, or those who simply enjoy the taste better. Tom Philpott views almonds as “a precious foodstuff: a crunchy jolt of complete protein, healthful fats, vitamins and minerals, and deliciousness,” and writes that crushing them down to milk dilutes the almond’s natural nutritiousness:

Plain almonds are a nutritional powerhouse. Let’s compare a standard serving (one ounce, about a handful) to the 48-ounce bottle of Califia Farms almond milk that a house guest recently left behind in my fridge.

A single ounce (28 grams) of almonds… contains six grams of protein (about an egg’s worth), along with three grams of fiber (a medium banana) and 12 grams of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (half an avocado). According to its label, an eight-ounce serving of Califia almond milk offers just one gram each of protein and fiber, and five grams of fat. A bottle of Califia delivers six eight-ounce servings, meaning that a handful of almonds contains as much protein as the mighty jug of this hot-selling beverage.

What this tells you is that the almond-milk industry is selling you a jug of filtered water clouded by a handful of ground almonds.


Then there is the price of almond milk, which costs considerably more than the same volume of dairy milk:

I could have bought nonorganic California almonds for $6.49 per pound, about 39 cents per ounce. That container of Califia, which contains roughly the same number of nonorganic almonds, retails for $3.99.


Finally, we must consider the ecological consequences of almond production. 80% of the world’s almonds comes from California’s Central Valley — a hot, arid agricultural region that has been experiencing an unprecedented drought in recent years. This is especially important for almonds because it takes 1.1 gallons of water to produce a single almond:

The ecological implications are potentially dire. In a huge swath of the almond-intensive San Joaquin Valley, the ground has literally been sinking by an average of 11 inches per year, a 2013 US Geological Survey study found. The culprit: over-pumping of aquifers. Such subsidence, as its known, threatens vital infrastructure like bridges, roads, and irrigation canals. In an interview last spring, one of the study’s authors, USGS scientist Michelle Sneed, told me that the ongoing switch from row crops like vegetables to nuts plays a role in subsidence. You can fallow fields of annual vegetables during droughts, but almond trees need a steady supply of water for years.

Meanwhile, groundwater depletion is also making the Sierra Nevada and Coast Mountain ranges slowly rise—enough to potentially trigger earthquakes, a 2014 Nature paper found. Then there’s the bee problem—growing 80 percent of the globe’s almonds in a few tightly packed swaths of California creates massive pest pressure and requires fully 60 percent of the nation’s managed honeybees for pollination. As beekeepers learned this spring, hauling in 1.6 million honeybee hives into an area dripping with insecticides is a recipe for disaster.


Environmentally, cows are not innocent bystanders by any means. Methane dispensers that they are, the cattle industry is a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming and climate change.

Frankly, I think we would all be better off if we de-emphasized milk consumption in our society after the first birthday, so long as we embrace the idea of ensuring that every child in America has access to complete and adequate nutrition from the start.




***Do you have a non-urgent, clinical or otherwise (but nothing personal!) question for your Pediatric Alliance doctor or provider? Send an email with your questions to palblog@pediatricalliance.com and we’ll do our best to answer them and post them on The PediaBlog. You don’t have to include your child’s name, but an idea of their age is helpful. Also, please include the name of the division you go to and your doctor’s or provider’s name.
Ask us anything! (But, please, no urgent or semi-urgent questions — we may not get to your question right away. If your child is sick, or you have acute concerns, please call our offices and speak with our triage staff.)