Toddlers who Drink Non-Cow’s Milk may be Shorter than Their Peers

Parents who dream of their young child growing up to become an NBA player should maybe avoid substituting plant-based milks for cow’s milk, a study finds. Toddlers who drink soy, almond, or other milk “alternatives” may be shorter than youngsters who drink plain old cow’s milk. A strange correlation indeed.

Researchers wrote in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that each daily cup of non-cow’s milk consumed was associated with 0.4 centimeters (0.15 inches) lower height than average for a child’s age. [1]

Dr. Jonathon Maguire, the study’s lead author and a pediatrician and researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, said:

“We found that children who are consuming non-cow’s milk like rice, almond and soy milk tended to be a little bit shorter than children who consumed cow’s milk. For example, a 3-year-old child consuming three cups of non-cow’s milk relative to cow’s milk was on average 1.5 centimeters shorter.” [2]

That half-an-inch difference “is not a tiny difference” when you’re 3 years old, Maguire noted.

Researchers looked at a cross-section of more than 5,000 healthy Canadian children ages 2 to 6 years old, 51% of whom were male, and were recruited from 9 family and pediatric healthcare practices from December 2008 to September 2015.

  • About 5% of participants drank exclusively non-cow’s milk
  • About 84% drank only cow’s milk
  • About 8% drank both
  • About 3% drank neither

The researchers were most stunned to discover “that the amount children were shorter depended on how much they were consuming,” according to Maguire.

He said:

“It’s not like if you’re not consuming cow’s milk, you’re a little shorter. It’s more like if you are consuming non-cow’s milk, with each cup that a child consumes, that child on average appears to be a little bit smaller, a little bit shorter. That’s a bit surprising.”

Does that mean children who drink non-cow’s milk will grow up to be shorter than their peers? Maybe, maybe not.

Maguire said:

“That’s one remaining question. We don’t know if the kids consuming non-cow’s milk, maybe they catch up over time, or maybe they don’t. Time’s going to have to tell.

We do know in general as pediatricians that children who are on a certain percentile line in terms of height tend to stay on that line for the rest of their childhood and into adulthood.”

A Weak Correlation

But according to Amy Joy Lanou, a professor of health and wellness at the University of North Carolina-Asheville who was not involved in the research, the researchers didn’t include enough variables for the findings to be accurate. Most notably, only milk consumption was considered.

She said:

“It’s just odd to me why we wouldn’t be looking at the overall diets of the children. If they’re making the claim that it’s because it’s the difference in the types of milk the kids are drinking, well, what else are they eating?”

Lanou’s own research has led to her to believe that cow’s milk is “not a necessary food,” and she believes the study wrongly assumes that taller equals healthier.

“Taller children and heavier children are not necessarily healthier adults, or even healthier children. I think they’re using height as a marker for health, and I’m not sure that’s appropriate.”

Maguire acknowledged there could have been differences in the children’s overall diets, but he said the nutritional content in different milk substitutes varies widely. And it’s “reasonable to hypothesize that some shortchange children on protein, fat, and other nutrients.” [1]

Reasons to Argue that the Connection is Real

Connie Weaver, a professor of nutrition science at Purdue University who was also not involved in the study, believes fewer nutrients in plant-based beverages compared to cow’s milk may partly explain why young children who consumed milk alternatives were found to be shorter. [2]

Weaver stated:

“This is the first study that I recall directly comparing cow milk with plant-based beverages for a physiological benefit.

We know that some of the plant beverages, almond especially, have lower protein contents so I have speculated that calcium absorption may be lower. This would suggest that cow’s milk is superior.”

Another contributing factor to the difference in height could be that plant-based milks don’t stimulate the production of insulin-like growth factor, or IGF, as well as cow’s milk does.

Weaver explained:

“Having less IGF may compromise height but that may lower risk of fracture — and some cancers, too.”

The authors wrote:

“Many parents are choosing non-cow’s milk beverages like soy and almond milk because of perceived health benefits. However, non-cow’s milk contains less protein and fat than cow’s milk and may not have the same effect on height.” [3]

Maguire added:

“If products are being marketed as being equivalent to cow’s milk, as a consumer and a parent, I would like to know that they are in fact the same in terms of their effects on children’s growth.”

The researchers said there is no reason for parents to stop giving their children plant-based milks, but they should be “savvy” about reading nutrition labels, and should avoid milk beverages containing added sugar. [2]

But think twice before reaching for soy milk. As of 2012, about 88% of the soy grown in the U.S. is genetically modified. Past studies revealed that GMO soy is toxic to the kidneys, liver, and reproduction.

Soybeans have also been known to block the production of thyroid hormone, and potentially lead to the development of goiter, among other health problems.


[1] Health Day

[2] CNN

[3] CBS News

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Your “Organic” Milk may be Produced with Non-Organic Ingredients

DHA Milk made by Horizon, one of the largest organic brands in the U.S., isn’t nearly as “natural” as the company advertises it to be, according to an investigation by The Washington Post. It contains a type of algae, Schizochytrium, which is fed corn syrup. Corn is the #1 crop grown in the United States, and nearly all of it is genetically modified.

Schizochytrium is carefully tended, kept warm, and fed corn syrup, resulting in a substance that resembles corn oil, but has a slightly fishy taste. It is then marketed as the nutritional supplement DHA, and added to millions of cartons of organic Horizon milk.

Horizon uses corn-syrup enriched algal oil to advertise health benefits and charge more for their DHA-enhanced milk than it does for its regular milk.

This raises an important question: Is Horizon DHA milk really “organic”?

Is the Milk Really Organic?

Charlotte Vallaeys, a senior policy analyst at Consumer Reports seems to think not. She said the addition of algal oil defeats the whole purpose of buying and eating organic.

The “All Natural” Scam: How to Shop Healthy for You and Your Family

“We do not think that [the oil] belongs in organic foods. When an organic milk carton says it has higher levels of beneficial nutrients, like omega-3 fats, consumers want that to be the result of good farming practices … not from additives made in a factory.”

Organic food companies desperately want the coveted “USDA Organic” seal on their products, knowing it can easily double the price of an item. But many companies are constantly pushing the USDA’s limits of what can be considered “organic.” Meanwhile, consumer groups want a narrower, “purer,” definition.

According to The Post, USDA officials must have misread federal regulations when they allowed the use of oil and similar additives, at least originally. Algal oil was introduced into milk in 2007. In 2012, the USDA quietly acknowledged that some federal regulations had been “incorrectly interpreted.” Rather than disrupt the market, the agency opted not to reverse course.

That was good news for Horizon.

In a statement, a Horizon spokesperson said:

“Millions of people choose our Horizon Organic milk with DHA Omega-3 for the added benefits DHA Omega-3s are thought to deliver.”

The spokesperson added that the algal oil may improve heart, brain, and eye health.

‘People Buying into a Lie’

Horizon milk is a popular product, with more than 26 million gallons of the milk supplemented with the algal oil sold in the last year – that’s 14% of all organic milk gallons sold. Retail sales of the product topped $250 million in the past year. The Horizon DHA milk typically costs 30 cents more than plain Horizon milk.

However, critics argue that people are buying into a lie, and that supplementing “USDA Organic” products with algal oil is a slap in the face to consumers who expect that organic foods are nature-made and not laboratory-made, and that the nutrients in organic foods and drinks are good enough without additives.

Indeed, recent testing by The Post reveals that milk produced by grass-fed cows – a requirement of organic regulations – contains significantly more Omega-3 fatty acids than conventional milk. [1]

Barry Flamm, former chair of the National Organic Standards Board, which makes recommendations to the USDA, said:

“Additives just don’t have any place in organics at all. You might say additives should be allowed for health reasons, but I never saw an additive that you couldn’t get in real foods.”

Most buyers agree. Past Consumer Reports surveys show 7 out of 10 buyers think the USDA should not permit the use of non-organic ingredients in organic food production unless they are deemed essential.

The Cornucopia Institute, a national food and farm policy watchdog, says on its website that their own researchers had made the discovery that organic food companies were supplementing their products with algal oil. Additionally, the institute says it filed a formal legal complaint, which sparked the story in The Post.


The Washington Post

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Organic Lunchables are a Thing Now, But Don’t Call Them “Healthy”

Some of you may remember your mom buying you Lunchables to take to school. You know, the little DIY kits with everything from crackers and meat and cheese, to little pizzas. When you think of “processed food,” Lunchables should immediately come to mind. What’s for lunch? CHEMICALS! But now there is a (slightly) healthier option for busy moms and dads who struggle to find time to pack their kids’ lunches: Organic Lunchables.

A little bit healthier. Emphasis on “a little bit.”

There are currently 2 Organic Lunchables options: “Extra Cheesy Pizza” and “Pizza With Pepperoni.” The mini-meal kits boast a “certified organic option that’s free of artificial preservatives, ingredients, flavors, and colors.” [1]

That’s good, right?


I tried to find an ingredient list for the Organic Lunchables options, but couldn’t find one online. It would be interesting to find out whether they contain high-fructose corn syrup.

They’re still made with bleached white flour, and the pepperoni is a processed meat – the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) says processed meats are carcinogenic – so I’m hesitant to call Organic Lunchables “healthy.” [2]

Are the cows that provide their milk and cheese fed non-GMO feed? Are there antibiotics in the milk and cheese? Is the little tomato sauce packet made with non-GMO tomatoes?

Lunchables get pretty low scores from Environmental Working Group, that’s for sure.

You can pick up either not-quite-as-terrible-for-you option at supermarkets nationwide beginning in August 2017 for $2.99. That’s about $2 more than the more-terrible-for-you versions of Lunchables. [1]


[1] Today

[2] PopSugar

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Are Food Allergies Increasing? Experts Say They Just Don’t Know

More Americans claim to have food allergies than ever before, but a report published in 2016 from the National Academy of Sciences says that it’s hard to know how many people in the U.S. actually have food allergies. Although many healthcare professionals involved in patient care agree that an increase has occurred, specifying its actual extent is complicated by factors such as inconsistent data or studies that use variable methods.

Part of the problem is that many people self-diagnose and can easily misinterpret their symptoms. Food allergies can be mistaken for gluten sensitivity or lactose intolerance, e.g., neither of which fits the medical definition of an allergy. [1]

Dr. Virginia Stallings, a board-certified nutrition pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the chair of the committee that wrote the report, said:

“There are a lot of misconceptions about what a food allergy is.”

One of the ways in which a misinterpretation arises is when parents introduce milk or another new food into their child’s diet, and then see that the child has an upset stomach or other gastrointestinal symptoms. These symptoms could indicate lactose intolerance, but the parents may suspect a food allergy. In reality, food intolerance and food allergy are two different conditions.

Stallings said:

“The reason food allergy symptoms are often confused with other [conditions] such as lactose intolerance is because there’s an overlap in some of the symptoms.”

The panel estimated that about 5% of U.S. children have legitimate food allergies, and wrote that:

“Eight food groups are considered to be major allergens. These are milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish, and crustacean shellfish.” [2]

Stallings added:

“Questions persist about whether food allergy prevalence has been on the rise within the past two decades and why. The current data do not unequivocally support the occurrence of such a rise.”

The Definition of a Food Allergy

Allergies are caused by an immune response to a normally-harmless food or other substance. Allergies typically cause hives and swelling or gastrointestinal distress. Severe food allergies can be life-threatening. In contrast, someone with lactose intolerance can’t easily digest the natural sugar in milk, and the condition is not life-threatening – just highly uncomfortable. [1]

Source: Personal Health News

As the American Academy of Pediatrics points out, “while lactose intolerance can cause a great deal of discomfort, it will not produce a life-threatening reaction such as anaphylaxis.” [1]

Anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction) can cause someone to go into shock within seconds or minutes of contact with the food or substance (latex, e.g.) that he or she is allergic to. A sudden drop in blood pressure occurs; and the airways narrow, which blocks normal breathing. Other symptoms of anaphylactic shock can include a rapid, weak pulse a skin rash, and nausea and vomiting. [3]

Read: 18 Million Americans Suffer from Gluten Intolerance

Another problem making it difficult to determine how many people have food allergies is the fact that diagnosing food allergies can be complicated. Stallings said that there’s no single skin or blood test that lets physicians accurately determine whether a person has an allergy to a specific food. [1]

Advice for Parents

Parents should seek immediate medical attention if their child’s lips swell or the child has difficulty breathing. When the symptoms are milder, parents should see an expert, such as a pediatric allergist, instead of declaring that the child has an allergy.

Bruce Lanser, who directs the pediatric food allergy program at National Jewish Health in Denver, said:

“We unfortunately see kids avoiding a food unnecessarily because of some fear of a potential allergy.”

The best diagnostic tool at experts’ disposal is an oral food challenge, according to Lanser. Under medical supervision, patients eat small amounts of the food they are suspected of being allergic to. Lanser explained:

“We start with a small amount of food and slowly give increasing doses up to a full serving.”

If the patient has a reaction during the test, “obviously we stop and treat,” he said.

The authors of the report wrote:

“The patient’s medical history and other test results, such as from a skin prick test, can suggest the likelihood of a food allergy, but in some cases an oral food challenge – which involves a gradual, medically supervised ingestion of increasingly larger doses of the food being tested as a possible allergen – is needed to confirm diagnosis. ” [2]

That’s a lot of work to confirm an allergy, so people often just go on a hunch.

Lanser said he tests his patients once a year to see if they’ve outgrown their food allergies. And they often have. Said Lanser:

“Milk and egg allergy are commonly outgrown. About 1 in 5 people outgrow their peanut allergy.” [1]

Food Allergy Safety – 4 Recommendations

The authors of the new report recommend more research to determine the prevalence of food allergies. The report also includes many recommendations for addressing food-allergy safety:

  • 1. Kids who have severe symptoms of a food allergy may require an epinephrine injection. In many schools, only a school nurse is trained to give shots. The report recommends that other administrators and teachers also be trained to administer epinephrine in case of emergency.
  • 3. Health professionals and the public should receive better education concerning differences between true food allergies and other disorders (lactose intolerance and gluten sensitivity, e.g.) that are often mistaken for allergies.
  • 4. Restaurant workers, first responders, and others should receive better training in helping people avoid foods they’re allergic to, and in treating severe allergic reactions with epinephrine, often sold as an EpiPen. [4]


[1] NPR

[2] NBC News

[3] Mayo Clinic

[4] The Boston Globe

Personal Health News

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