Is It Possible To Have a Balanced Diet Without Dairy?

We received a question from a reader concerned about nutritional needs for a child in her life. Here’s her question:

“My grandson was switched to almond milk after he was weaned at eight months. He eats no dairy. He is now four-and-a-half years old. He has no medical reason for not consuming dairy. What will be his development challenges for not consuming dairy?”

With the growing popularity of plant-based drinks, many parents, grandparents and caregivers are likely considering similar questions. We reached out to Dr. Dennis Savaiano, professor in the Department of Nutrition Science, Purdue University.

He explained that it depends on a person’s overall diet.

“Dairy foods are a great source of nutrients, especially calcium, protein and other vitamins and minerals. Not eating dairy makes eating a nutritious diet more difficult, but not impossible,” he said.

As with many nutrition issues, it is important to read labels of plant-based milk products.

“Many almond milks have poor nutrient composition. Be careful in reading labels to ensure that the products contain good nutrition and not simply empty/sugar calories,” Dr. Savaiano added.

In our article about plant-based milks, Dr. Ann Macrina, Penn State University, explained that all cow’s milk is relatively consistent in protein and mineral content. The amount of fat varies in the different types such as whole milk, skim milk, etc. That is not the case with plant-based milks, which include drinks made from almonds, soy, rice or other plants.

“Plant-based milks are quite variable. Some have as much fat as cow’s milk. Some have a higher sugar content. The big difference is protein. The quality of plant protein generally is not as high as animal protein. Cow’s milk has more of the building block proteins that humans need in their diet,” she said.

It is possible for children and adults to get necessary nutrients without consuming dairy; however, it is essential to read labels and make sure the overall diet has adequate vitamins, minerals and protein.

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