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For some toddlers, soy milk is an acceptable alternative to cow's milk. There are some things to keep in mind, however.
Be sure to buy whole soy milk, not the low-fat or nonfat versions, because fat is important for brain development in children under 2. (If your child has a family history of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, or obesity, however, her doctor may recommend beginning low-fat milk at an earlier age.)
Also, make sure the soy milk you choose is fortified with vitamin A, vitamin D, and calcium.
You may want to boost your toddler's diet with other calcium-rich or calcium-fortified foods as well, because soy milk contains phytates. These are naturally occurring substances found in whole-grain foods, legumes, and nuts that can reduce the absorption of calcium and other minerals.
While a container of fortified soy milk may say that an 8-ounce glass contains 200 to 300 mg of calcium, for instance, studies have found that the body absorbs only about 75 percent of that calcium. Choose calcium-rich foods like broccoli, kale, lime-processed tortillas, yogurt, and cheese, and calcium-fortified juices, cereals, waffles, and breakfast bars.
Because soy milk is made from plants, it doesn't have any vitamin B12, which is found only in animal foods (including cow's milk). Pouring soy milk over a bowl of vitamin-fortified cereal is a good way to ensure that your child starts the day with the right nutrients.
Keep in mind that if your child is allergic to cow's milk there's a 10 to 14 percent chance that she'll also be allergic to soy milk, so you can't assume that soy will be a good substitute if your child is dealing with a cow's milk allergy.
You can buy flavored soy milk or add your own flavoring if your child doesn't like the way plain soy milk tastes.
By the way, in addition to protein, many brands of soy milk highlight the fact that they contain isoflavones. Isoflavones are phytoestrogens, estrogen-like hormones found in plants such as whole grains, potatoes, dried beans, and apples. There is no evidence that the isoflavones in soy protein — commonly used in infant formula — have any adverse effects on children.