Importance of Dairy in Children’s Nutrition

Are dairy products benefical for children? Is it true they can cause allergies? Experts give us recommendations based on scientific evidence.
Hands of a girl holding a glass of milk
The probiotics and prebiotics present in dairy products can help prevent future allergies. (Photo: Getty Images)

Dairy and children’s nutrition, as well as early-age introduction to milk products like yogurt, cheese, and other products, are controversial topics within society.

Experts point out the need to set aside trends or personal beliefs about dairy and, instead, rely on scientific evidence to ensure optimum childhood nutrition.

Prebiotics and Probiotics for Children’s Health

Some common myths, such as the belief that dairy product consumption should be delayed in babies to prevent allergies, were discussed during the panel Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Child Nutrition, held as part of the workshop Dairy Products and Alternatives for Byproduct Utilization: Nutrition and Sustainability, which was hosted by the Institute for Obesity Research (IOR) at Tecnológico de Monterrey.

In fact, the speakers said there is evidence that dairy products can supplement people’s diet and actually prevent future allergies. “The role of prebiotics and probiotics in managing and preventing diseases can be applied to gastrointestinal infections, gastroenteritis, and even to prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea,” explained TecSalud pediatrician Sara Ortega. 

Probiotics and prebiotics can influence allergy prevention and immune system regulation since they directly affect the microbiota, which plays a vital role for long-term health. 

Angélica Díaz, Science Communication Manager for Yakult in Mexico, explained the significance of producing solutions that match specific demands: “Some probiotics and prebiotics should not be consumed continuously, while others can be consumed daily for extended periods.”

Appropriate prebiotic and probiotic supplementation can improve general wellbeing. However, the experts also underlined the need to take into account strong scientific research as well as individual children’s dietary needs. 

Full video of the panel: “Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Child Nutrition.”

Plant-Based Milk: Nutritional Balance and Scientific Evidence 

Plant-based milk as an alternative to milk from animals is another controversial topic. 

The experts believe that although some of these alternatives can be included in people’s diets, not all of them provide the nutritional benefits that dairy products from animals do. 

“These deficiencies are typically asymptomatic, not becoming apparent until laboratory tests are performed. It’s difficult for people who follow a plant-based diet because they have to be aware of when to take vitamin B12, iron, and calcium supplements, among other things,” explained TecSalud pediatrician Sara Ortega. 

Some childhood nutrition studies show the need for vital elements such as calcium and iron for healthy development, yet certain plant-based products fall short in these areas, so using them as alternatives may have consequences for health and growth. 

Hence the importance of not altering diets based on marketing or trends, but always on scientific evidence.

Ernesto Duarte from Beneo, a company that produces functional ingredients, says there’s a need for more regional evidence on the effect and development of products for certain groups of people. 

He explained that sophisticated studies on this influence have already been conducted in Europe and Asia, but he pointed out that Latin America requires further investigation to help uncover better solutions for boosting nutrition from infancy to maturity. 

We shouldn’t demonize milk; it’s a complete food with proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. There are processes to remove fat, reduce lactose, or eliminate sugar for specific diets, but the foundation of a healthy diet is balance,” concluded Ortega.

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