Rice milk gives your toddler more than you bargained for, but it's not a benefit.

Is Rice Milk Safe for a Toddler?

by Sharon Perkins

Milk doesn't do every body good -- some kids can't digest cow's milk or have an allergy to it, while some parents would rather their kids follow a vegan diet that doesn't include dairy. But toddlers need something to pour on their breakfast cereal; soy fits the bill for some, but kids with a milk allergy can also have a soy allergy. Rice milk comes with its own set of risks, including potentially high arsenic levels and low levels of nutrients found in cow's milk.

1. Vitamins and Minerals

Rice milk doesn't naturally contain the same nutrients as milk or other dairy products, for the obvious reason that rice doesn't come from a cow. Rice naturally contains much less calcium than milk, although manufacturers can and do add it. Because growing kids need calcium to build strong bones, rice milk without added calcium is nutritionally inferior to cow's milk for kids. Both cow's milk and rice milk often contain added vitamin D.

2. Protein

All dairy products are high in protein. Cow's milk has eight times the protein in rice milk; protein is another essential for growing bodies. Since many toddlers aren't big meat eaters, dairy products can provide much of your little guy's protein intake. Rice milk is a minimal source of protein at best and also contains more sugar than cow's milk.

3. Arsenic Levels

Serving your toddler a hefty dose of the poison arsenic probably isn't what you have in mind when you pour a glass of rice milk, but that could be the end result. Lots of foods contain arsenic; rice milk isn't unique in that regard. The difference between rice and other foods is that it contains around 50 percent inorganic arsenic, the more damaging type compared to organic arsenic found in most foods. The amount of arsenic in rice products isn't enough to cause health problems in you or older kids, but could be damaging for your toddler's brain and development. Brown rice, which many rice milks contain, has higher levels of arsenic than white rice.

4. Recommendations

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants not drink rice milk, because of the potential for high arsenic levels. The organization also recommends feeding children a variety of foods without emphasizing one type of food, such as rice, to minimize arsenic exposure. The United Kingdom Food Standards Agency goes further and recommends that toddlers and children younger than 4 1/2 years also avoid rice milk. "Consumer Reports" scientists, who studied arsenic level in rice products, also recommended that kids under age 5 not consume rice milk.

About the Author

A registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in oncology, labor/delivery, neonatal intensive care, infertility and ophthalmology, Sharon Perkins has also coauthored and edited numerous health books for the Wiley "Dummies" series. Perkins also has extensive experience working in home health with medically fragile pediatric patients.

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