Does low-fat milk delay a child's development? -

Does low-fat milk delay a child's development?

You may think eating "low fat" and "non-fat" foods is always the better choice. But some parents may be taking the fat-free craze a step too far. Dr. Cara Natterson says that giving kids non-fat milk and other low-fat foods could be stunting their brain development.

From birth to two years old are the most critical years in a person's life for brain growth and development. And since the human brain is mostly made up of fatty acids, babies and toddlers need at least half of their calories to come from fat that's mainly found in milk.

"When a baby is born, the only thing that he or she will drink for the first year of their life is either breast milk or formula," explains Dr. Natterson. "It's after the first birthday that we start seeing the introduction of cow's milk. And, starting around age one, most babies will drink whole milk."

Dr. Natterson is troubled by the trend among parents to limit their one and two year-olds' consumption of fat because they're concerned about childhood obesity. She says cutting out milk is the wrong thing to do.

"There are two reasons that you don't need to worry about pairing milk and childhood obesity," says Dr. Natterson, "The first is that you can make choices about your fat content in milk. You can choose fat free milk The other reason is that if you look at studies of teenagers who drink milk and – this is true of teenagers who drink fat free milk and also low-fat milk. Those teenagers grow taller and leaner than their non-milk drinking counterparts."

Dr. Natterson says that's because children who don't drink milk tend to drink sodas and juices that are packed with calories, and have little or no nutrition. She says even chocolate milk is a better alternative to soda and sweetened juices. That may come as a surprise considering the current trend to ban chocolate milk in schools.

"I really appreciate that the parents who are trying to pull flavored milks out of schools are doing it because they're trying to reduce the sugar load and reduce the calorie load in school foods, and that makes sense to me," she says. "But, I think they've picked the wrong enemy with flavored milks. Because milk is a great vehicle for vitamins, minerals, and protein. If a child is going to choose a flavored milk as a treat, that's a great treat to choose."

The general rule about milk is that every child can benefit from protein, from calcium, from iron and from vitamin D.

"This is a really great, nutritious staple of their diet," says Dr. Natterson. "It's why I give it to my kids every day."

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