by Dr. Joanna Storey

Cow’s milk is a great beverage for kids. In addition to high levels of protein and bone-building calcium, cow’s milk is a good source of vitamin B12 (important for the the brain and DNA synthesis), potassium (vital for the nervous system) and vitamin D (for absorbing calcium). It’s one of two beverages that nutritionists recommend most kids drink exclusively. (The other is water!)

But some kids are allergic to cow’s milk protein or have lactose intolerance, and others just don’t like it. Non-dairy now makes up almost 10 percent of all milks sales and new varieties seem to appear in the grocery stores all the time. So for parents shopping for non-dairy milk alternatives here’s a rundown of the options.

Soy milk has been around the longest is a good match for milk when it comes to protein and potassium content. The fat is soy is the healthy unsaturated variety and most brands have a good amount of vitamin D and calcium. Reading the ingredients list on the label will help you avoid those with too much added sugar. (The chocolate varieties tend to have more sugar.)

Nut milks (almond and cashew are the most common) are usually very low in protein (1 gram per cup compared to 8 grams in cow’s milk). A few nut milk varieties will have some added protein. Check the carton’s nutrition facts to look for 8 or more grams per cup. Nut milks without added sugar tend to be low in calories.

Coconut milk contains no protein and is more likely to have added sugar. The naturally occurring fat in coconut milk is the saturated kind. This is less heart-healthy than the unsaturated fat in soy and nuts.

Rice milk should be avoided, especially for children under age 5. Rice is often contaminated with arsenic which leeches into the grain from contaminated soil and water during cultivation. Arsenic is known to cause cancer in humans.

Check out this smoothie recipe which could be a healthy breakfast or afternoon snack.

1 cup Silk Brand Protein Nutmilk (10 grams of protein/cup)

1-2 frozen bananas

1 tablespoon flax seed (adds hearty-healthy omega-3 fatty acids)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (if desired)

Mix all ingredients in blender and pulse on high for 30 to 60 seconds. Serve immediately.