Vitamin D levels in milk substitutes not always enough, doctor says

A Calgary physician says parents should read labels carefully before giving their children milk substitutes.

Toronto study suggests children not drinking cow's milk are more likely to be vitamin D deficient

A Calgary doctor says parents are often unaware that non-cow milk substitutes may not contain sufficient amounts of vitamin D for their children. (Sandra Mu/Getty Images)

Your child may be at greater risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency if they drink a milk substitute, a new Toronto study suggests.

According to the recent study at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, children between the ages of one and six who drink only non-cow milk are twice as likely to have low levels of vitamin D as those who drink cow's milk.

The results were published last month in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

A growing number of parents are giving their children milk alternatives such as rice, almond and soy beverages, said Calgary pediatrician Dr. Peter Nieman.

He says many parents are unaware that while Canadian regulations ensure cow milk products are fortified with vitamin D, the same is not true of milk substitutes.

“Of course the assumption is being made and we know that when you assume things, you can make big mistakes,” Nieman said. “I think people should look at labels and see if it’s vitamin D fortified."

Calgary dietitian Jessica Begg said rice and almond milk sometimes contain significantly less vitamin D than cow milk even if products are labelled as enriched.

A 2010 report by Statistics Canada said four per cent of Canadians are vitamin D deficient, with levels low enough to cause nutritional rickets in children — and osteoporosis in adults.

The study cited less frequent milk consumption as one of the factors behind the deficiencies.


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