In terms of your child’s nutrition, beverages matter. Milk, water, and 100 percent juices are best. Water is very important for thirst, of course, but it is non-nutritive. Fruit juices should be limited to a single serving of 8 ounces or less per day. And so, it is milk that plays the most critical role in enriching the quality of a child’s diet.

Expert advice on milk is shifting back toward whole milk. Whole milk, rather than low-fat or nonfat varieties, is ideal for nearly all young children because whole milk ensures adequate fat, a source of energy for rapid brain growth. Although some saturated fats raise the risk of cardiovascular disease or diabetes, some observational research suggests that the fat in milk does not increase such risks.

For children and adolescents, dairy milk is considered superior to nearly all plant-based milks. Of the four nutrients of concern cited by the U.S. Dietary GuidelinesOpens a new window, milk provides three: calcium, vitamin D, and potassium. To help fill other nutritional gaps, some producers of milk recently have started to add such essentials as omega-3 fatty acids (DHA), choline, and prebiotics (indigestible fiber) to their products, especially those designed for children.

DHA is a fatty acid that is crucial for each stage of early brain growth, playing a part in learning and memory. It was added to formula to match levels found in breast milk, especially formulas for premature infants, to aid brain and eye development.

Nearly 90 percent of the U.S. population fails to meet recommended dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids once breast milk or infant formula are withdrawn, so the addition of DHA to milk helps supports brain and eye health of children and adolescents during a time of extraordinary physical and cognitive growth.

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Choline is another crucial metabolic nutrient for the body and brain. Choline is important for maintaining the structure of all cell membranes. It also works in association with DHA to safeguard brain-cell functioning and serves as a building block for making acetylcholine, a vital neurotransmitter in the brain. Choline deficiency can result in cognitive decline, emphasizing its importance not only for normal brain structure but also for cognitive performance. 

Finally, prebiotics, often certain types of fiber, help nourish beneficial intestinal bacteria. At birth, infants encounter billions of bacteria, including some pathogens that could threaten their health. Breast milk contains large doses of prebiotics in the form of human milk oligosaccharides, or HMOs. HMOs support the naturally present beneficial bacteria, which may in turn help protect against infections, aid digestion and absorption of food, and help strengthen the body’s metabolism. Adding prebiotics is a strategy that encourages a stable, supportive intestinal microflora throughout the growing years, as well.

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Every meal and snack matters. So, if you stay current on the science of nutrients being added to foods and beverages, you can better understand how they may help your child lead a healthier life.

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This post was sponsored by Horizon Organic®Opens a new window.

Dr Robert D Murray

Robert D. Murray, M.D. is a professor of Pediatrics and a consultant on projects involving pediatric nutrition and childhood obesity. He spent his career in the Department of Pediatrics of the Ohio State University College of Medicine, located at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, with 30 years in the field of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition. He also served as Director of the Borden Center for Nutrition and Wellness, the Pediatric Medical Director for Ross Labs (a division of Abbott Labs), and Director of the Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition. Dr. Murray is currently working with other pediatricians around the globe on malnutrition among children. 

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