Since so many children with special needs cannot tolerate dairy, at least for a period of gastrointestinal healing, I am often asked to recommend a non-dairy “milk.” You know that saying: “One man’s food is another man’s poison?” One reason that autism diets can fail to see positive results may be found in the use of processed, packaged, non-dairy milk substitutes. Keep in mind, it is not essential to have a milk substitute if you child is dealing with sensitivity to milk, yet many parents want to be able to give their child an alternate form of “milk.”
With all the best intentions, moms turn to these “milks” to avoid the casein proteins that tend to negatively impact many children with ASDs. Many times, moms will have already switched to almond milk that is sky high in oxalic acid and salicylates and find their child has a whole new set of behavioral issues or gut problems. Or they find a huge yeast overgrowth in the wake of switching to high sugar rice milks that also may contain high levels of arsenic. And those soy milks contain anti-nutrient phytates that block mineral absorption and can impair immune and thyroid function. The sugars in coconut milk are FODMAPS and can exacerbate gut issues in a segment of susceptible children. Beyond these issues, all of the non-dairy milks, whatever their primary substitute base may be, are loaded with additives that can wreak havoc for children with special needs. Sad to say, I cannot recommend any of the packaged, processed non-dairy milks I have seen.
But before you decide to throw in the towel on milk substitutes, consider how easy and quick it can be to make your own nutritious, delicious non-dairy milk. Really! Try out my recipe for “milk” made from sunflower and pumpkin seeds with chestnuts, and let me know what you think. It will take you less than 10 minutes. Plus it’s loaded with so many vitamins and minerals that our kids really need.
So What’s Wrong with Packaged Non-Dairy Milks?
- Dangerous synthetic vitamin additions: Almost all of these milks are “ultrapasteurized” or heated to such high heat that all the vitamins are killed.
- The natural vitamins are often replaced with the synthetic form of D2 which is produced by UV radiation on yeast. It cannot be used in the body in the same way as natural vitamin D and can create toxicity.
- Almost all these milks also have added Vitamin A palmitate from palmitic acid sourced from palm oil that has been demonstrated, in a segment of vulnerable children with ASDs, to turn off multiple metabolic pathways involved in vision and cell growth. For that population, A palmitate can also disrupt hormonal regulation and metabolism of lipids, protein and glycogen.
- Tricalcium phosphate is supposedly added to fortify the drink with calcium, but the growing use of inorganic phosphates additives in processed foods have been shown to contribute to cancer. It also has been shown to block iron absorption, leaving iron to feed pathogens in the gut.
- Guar gums and other gums used as thickening agents can exacerbate problems in those already suffering from gut irritation. Along with coconut, they are among a group of foods categorized as FODMAPS. Lowering FODMAPS in the diet has been shown to help with gut healing in Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
- Many list “natural flavorings” as an ingredient. That can include high amounts of sugar or stevia. While it’s true that Native Americans have used the stevia for thousands of years, they chewed its leaves or mixed them in tea. Today’s stevia is highly processed and refined, extremely high in oxalates, and very high in plant sterols. Studies have linked consistent high intake of stevia to liver mutations, fertility problems, lowered thyroid hormone production and disruptions in energy metabolism. There haven’t really been studies on humans, much less children, but we do know our kids sure don’t need another blow to their mitochondria!
- Anti-inflammatory ingredients: All these milks tend to have carageenan from red seaweed added to thicken the beverage. It is so well known to cause inflammation that it is used in pharmacological testing to create model animals for testing anti-inflammatory drugs. Dr. Joanne Tobacman from University of Illinois College of Medicine has published over 18 studies linking carageenan to cancer and gastrointestinal issues when eaten in quantities a typical diet might contain. It has also been shown to suppress cell mediated immunity. Not good for our kids!
Why My Non-Dairy “Milk” Is Good For Your Child:
Sunflower and pumpkin seeds are a good source of nutrients. Here is just a partial list of those that are particularly important for children with special needs:
- Zinc: a mineral SO important to proper immune function. Deficiency (common in kids with ASDs) can lead to loss of smell and taste which can contribute to food aversions, loss of appetite and self-restricted diet.
- Vitamin E: antioxidant, essential to immune health, anti-inflammatory, has shown to be helpful with apraxia. Deficiency in E is often linked to deficiency in zinc.
- Vitamin B6: essential to synthesis of neurotransmitters and myelin formation. Deficiency is common in kids with ASDs and can impact the central nervous system.
- Magnesium: the calming mineral, essential for healthy nerves, blood vessels, and muscle tone.
- Selenium: essential to glutathione production and detoxification.
- Phosphorus: essential to strong bones and teeth and maintaining balance of other minerals in the body. Deficiency can contribute to loss of appetite, irritability, and lack of energy.
- Pumpkin Seeds are also anti-parasitic.
Can you really tolerate dairy?
Please note that if you have removed dairy because of lactose intolerance rather than an issue with casein digestion, you might want to consider raw dairy. I, like so many others who suffered from severe milk allergy as a baby and lactose intolerance throughout my childhood, found that I have no problem whatsoever with raw milk which has natural enzymes and nutrients that help with digestion.
It has been known for many years that the A2 form of beta-casein protein more often found in Guernseys (unlike the common A1 form more often found in Holsteins) does not break down to the same casomorphin peptides which can be so harmful to sensitive children. A1 beta-casein dairy has also been correlated to diabetes and heart disease. In New Zealand, cows are tested, and one can order A2 casein milk. Unfortunately, it’s harder to find in the U.S. If you have removed dairy because of issues with the milk protein casein, and are ready to add it back, consider that sheep, goats and some cows have a different form of casein that many times can be tolerated by those who can’t tolerate the standard hybrid U.S. cow casein.
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