If your children drink milk other than cow’s milk, they may not be getting enough vitamin D, according to researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital. Their report was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
Milk has long been considered an important source of vitamin D, especially for children. But with more options to choose from including almond milk, rice milk, soy milk and goat’s milk, many parents are turning away from traditional cow’s milk for their children.
Reasons for the change include a belief that cow’s milk brings fewer health benefits, as well as allergies to milk or lactose intolerance.
Vitamin D is crucial for young children to grow strong bones. Children who don’t have enough vitamin D may develop a condition called rickets, which causes soft bones and skeletal abnormalities. Children who have a vitamin D deficiency may also develop osteoporosis or brittle bones when they are older.
Vitamin D deficiency is also tied to a number of health concerns in adults including increased risk of breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease and depression.
Dr. Jonathon Maguire, a pediatrician and researcher with St. Michael’s Hospital participated in the research study in Toronto, Canada. The study monitored 3,821 healthy children between the ages of one and six. Of those children, 87 percent drank cow’s milk and 13 percent drank non-cow’s milk.
Maguire’s team compared the results of blood tests to measure the difference in the children’s levels of vitamin D.
"Children drinking only non-cow's milk were more than twice as likely to be vitamin D deficient as children drinking only cow's milk," said Maguire.
"Among children who drank non-cow's milk, every additional cup of non-cow's milk was associated with a five per cent drop in vitamin D levels per month."
Vitamin D is sometimes referred to as the sunshine vitamin because being out in the sun stimulates your body to produce vitamin D. Vitamin D is also found naturally in some kinds of fatty fishes, fish liver oils and egg yolks. Some products, including milk and some breakfast cereals, orange juice and yogurt, are fortified with extra vitamin D.
Vitamin supplements can also help bridge the gap between needed vitamin D and that consumed in foods and drinks. But too much vitamin D can also be harmful. So talk to your doctor before giving your child vitamin supplements.
The Institute of Medicine gives children and adults ages 1-70 a recommended daily requirement for vitamin D of 600 International Units (IU) each day.
In North America, cow’s milk is required to be fortified with vitamin D. Non-cow’s milk does not have the same requirement, though some manufacturers choose to supplement their milk substitute with vitamin D.
Whether you choose to give your children cow’s milk or non-cow’s milk, one important message from the research team is for everyone caring for children to be aware of the amount of vitamin D and other important nutrients in their children’s diets.
If you have questions about your child’s diet or how much vitamin D he or she needs, talk to your health care provider.
Institute of Medicine. DRIs for Calcium and Vitamin D. Web. October 19, 2014.
Science Daily. Children who drink non-cow’s milk are twice as likely to have low vitamin D. Web. October 19, 2014.
Medicine Net. Vitamin D Deficiency. Web. October 19, 2014.
Healthy Children. Vitamin Supplements and Children. Web. October 19, 2014.
TeensHealth. Vitamin D. Web. October 19, 2014.
Reviewed October 22, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith