Trends Show More Families Are Looking for Dairy-Free Alternatives: USDA

For years, dairy has been considered among the healthiest food types we can consume, but according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more and more families are now taking dairy out of their diets.

Is the dairy-free lifestyle good for children?

Anna Taylor, of Frisco, says absolutely.

She says she's always been careful about what she feeds her son, 2-year-old Christian.

"I have an intolerance to lactose and my mother does," Taylor said.

When her son was born with a weakened immune system related to a birth defect, Taylor says she jumped headfirst into research on whether anyone really needs dairy in their diet.

"The research I've done shows it causes inflammation, different allergies. It causes different symptoms like discomfort, bloating, and in some people diarrhea," Taylor said. "It's just not worth it."

"We are the only species of animal that is drinking another animal's milk!" added Taylor, whose research led to her creation of the website

Studies show about 25 percent of American adults don't have enzymes needed breakdown the sugar in milk, making them lactose intolerant or lactose deficient. Some studies say intolerance to lactose is genetic.

According to the USDA, Americans, on average, drink 37 percent less milk today than they did in 1970.

However, doctors say most young children are able to tolerate dairy, as their bodies still have enough enzymes to break down lactose, and some health experts say kids in dairy-free homes are missing out on key nutrition.

Amy Goodson, a registered dietitian who works with the Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP)'s Milk Life campaign, says any time you remove a food group from your diet, you remove the main source of nutrients that food group provides.

"So if it's milk, you're looking at calcium and vitamin D," Goodson said.

"The calcium and vitamin D are really the most important part of what we look at, especially with growing kids, because that is going to be what helps them lay down bone," Goodson added. "You only have a certain period of time, really through adolescence and teen years, to lay down all the bone you're ever going to lay down."

She says families should be leery of dairy alternatives.

"That can be a fine beverage choice, but not to be confused that it has the same nutrients, because the nutrients package is different when we compare cow's milk to the other beverages," Goodson said.

Different or not, worldwide sales of non-dairy milk alternatives more than doubled over the last six years, according to market researcher Euromonitor.

Plus, Taylor says she incorporates plenty of other sources of nutrients in her family's diet.

"You have so many vegetables that have calcium. You have fortified orange juice. You have supplements. If you're looking for vitamin D, go outside for 15 minutes!" she said.

She also puts her money where her mouth is by not spending her money at restaurants that don't offer dairy alternatives.

"I feel like that it is ever-growing for a lot families that are on the same mission that we are," Taylor said.

According to the USDA, children 2 to 3 years old need two cups of milk per day, but some pediatric dietitians say it's still possible to meet calcium and vitamin D needs without dairy.

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