Almond milk may be a wildly-popular beverage among health-conscious consumers, but a new case study published in the journal Pediatrics warns against using it as a replacement for breast milk or infant formula. After x-rays of an immobile male infant in Spain revealed fractures in his legs, back, and otherwise thinning bones, researchers from the Hospital Universitario y Politécnico La Fe in Valencia were determined to find out why. In their investigation, they discovered the 11-month-old’s mother had only been feeding the baby almond beverages or almond flour-based formulas for nine months, resulting in scurvy.
Scurvy is a rare and serious condition that once ravaged sailors with limited access to vitamin C while they were stuck at sea for months. Because the baby was fed only plant-based beverages after two months of breastfeeding, his doctors said he missed out on the essential vitamins found in breast milk or cow-milk based formula. The mother said after he developed skin inflammation, a doctor recommended she switch him to almond milk; however, she didn’t realize it was meant to compliment pureed fruits and vegetables.
“When plant-based beverages are the exclusive diet in the first year of life and not consumed as a supplement to formula or breastfeeding, it can result in severe nutritional problems,” the study’s authors wrote. “This case demonstrates that scurvy is a new and severe complication of improper use of almond drinks in the first year of life. Pediatricians and parents should be aware that plant-based beverages are not a complete food and they may not replace breastfeeding or infant formula.”
Vitamin C is crucial to creating collagen — an important protein in the body that’s found in many tissues like cartilage, bone, skin, and teeth. Infants need approximately 50 to 60 milligrams of vitamin C a day, which they usually get from breast milk, baby formula, or fruits and vegetables. Once the doctors realized what was wrong, the infant was placed on a dietary regimen and fed formula, cereals, meat, and fruits, and vegetables, as well as an oral dosage of vitamin C and D.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives, after which point solid foods can be introduced to their regular diet. The average 8 ounces of breast milk contains about 11 milligrams of vitamin C, though fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K levels are based on the mother’s dietary intake — all of which are vital to an infant’s development.
Source: Dalmau J, Vitoria I, López B, et al. Improper Use of a Plant-Based Vitamin C-Deficient Beverage Causes Survey in an Infant. Pediatrics. 2016.