Mmmm, for milk and dairy | 3 min read

The South African food-based dietary guidelines advise that dairy should be consumed daily. The recommended intake for children is 2 – 3 servings a day to provide 900mg of calcium to develop strong bones and healthy teeth. The essential nutrients are calcium, phosphate, and magnesium, as well as vitamin B12.  

For the first year of life, breast- and/or formula milk provide the most energy requirements to your baby, together with healthy fats, calcium, and other vital nutrients that other milk alternatives cannot provide.  

Many other foods such as sardines and salmon, greens like broccoli, seeds, and legumes also provide calcium to the diet – but have you considered the portion that needs to be consumed to achieve adequate levels? To reach the same amount of calcium in your child’s daily intake, they must consume about 270g of sardines mashed with the bone (that is where the calcium is) or 200 almonds or ten tablespoons’ seeds or 4 cups of legumes or two and a half cups broccoli. Even a combination of these in a good portion would only provide you with one serving of calcium. As adults, we can replace dairy sources of calcium in our daily intake, but it is impossible to get the daily requirement for children without any dairy.

There are concerns, one of which is that the introduction of dairy into a baby or toddler’s diet can worsen or trigger the onset of allergies and asthma. However, there is currently no sound evidence that shows the direct link between milk and dairy consumption to trigger the onset of asthma. We know that the introduction of all allergens during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and the introduction of solids has been found to prevent allergies. The logic behind it is that you allow your child’s immune system to develop and respond to what may be foreign. If we do not expose our children, allergens might stay foreign, and an immune reaction can develop if only eaten later in life.  

We should, however, be cautious or alert when introducing dairy or other allergens to babies and toddlers when there are pre-existing allergies in the family. First, note that there is a difference between an allergy and an intolerance. An allergy is an immune reaction, whereas intolerance is the inability of the body to break down a food particle. For example, with dairy, the protein in the milk will cause allergy and lactose intolerance.  

Only 4.9% of children under three years have a milk allergy. For the first year of life, only 0.5% of breastfed infants develop Cow Milk Protein Allergy (CMPA), and 7.5% formula-fed infants. Lactose intolerance is more common among specific ethnic groups such as Asians, Hispanics, or Africans. Lactose intolerance can also be temporary after an illness.  The symptoms for allergy and intolerance are similar; therefore, it is essential to consult your paediatrician or healthcare worker when any of the above is present to manage and identify the problem correctly.  

When solids are introduced correctly, timely, and single nutrients at a time, you allow your baby and child to identify and build tolerance for food. There are so many aspects of parenthood to be anxious and worried about; let the introduction of solids be a little bit more fun and carefree without the world’s influence and prejudice.  

Source: Nadia van Rensburg


Vorster HH, Badham JB, Venter CS. An introduction to the revised food-based dietary guidelines for South Africa.

Walsh J, Meyer R, Shah N, Quekett J, Fox AT. Differentiating milk allergy (IgE and non-IgE mediated) from lactose intolerance: understanding the underlying mechanisms and presentations. British Journal of General Practice 2016.

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