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.

Do you have a question for the experts at Best Food Facts? Send it in here or email us at expert@bestfoodfacts.com. You can also follow us on social media.

  • Christine Campbell

    It’s such a marketing triumph of the milk industry that we think we need cow-based dairy in our lives. Unless you’re a calf, you don’t need cow’s milk. Plain and simple. It’s a recent cultural development to drink the milk of other animals and I find it such an odd cultural phenomenon. As a lactating woman, it’s come into incredibly sharp perspective. People treat the milk I pump as such a taboo product and would never consider even tasting it, let alone drinking it as a dietary staple. Yet, they’ll take the milk away from an infant cow and chug back a litre without a second thought. If I could market my business as well as the milk producers have, I’d be a millionaire! That’s not to say there aren’t good nutrients in dairy products- of course there are! But if you are interested in nutrients, and want something balanced for a human body- not a cow who is meant to put on 70-80lbs a month (hmmm…. eating something that is meant for a 1 tonne animal may have something to do with the obesity epidemic)- maybe we need to consider other options. Just because plant-based milks have different nutrient compositions doesn’t necessarily follow that they are worse compositions. I’m not arguing against eating dairy at all, but we need to walk up to the cultural paradigm and understand where those fallacies need to be broken down.

    • Lori Stevermer

      All living plants and animals need nutrients for growth and maintenance. These nutrients are available from a variety of sources and some are better sources for a particular nutrient than others. I believe that was the main point of the original answer. That’s why we talk about a “balanced diet”. We need to look at everything we consume, the nutrients that are being provided and evaluate whether that’s the best source and quantity for our particular situation.