Nutrition

Chocolate milk could be banned from schools, USDA says. Here’s what pediatric nutritionists think of the drink.

Chocolate milk at school
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Chocolate milk at school

Is chocolate milk bad for babies? Here’s what pediatric nutritionists have to say. (Illustration: Alex Cochran; Photo: Getty Images)

The US Department of Agriculture is considering a possible ban on flavored milks, including chocolate and strawberry, in elementary and middle schools. It is one of two proposals aimed at reducing the amount of added sugar children consume at school. (The other proposal would allow both flavored and unflavored milk for all grades from kindergarten through 12th.)

But is chocolate milk really bad for babies? Here’s what pediatric nutritionists have to say about the flavored drink.

What are the problems with chocolate milk?

The problem with chocolate milk mostly has to do with its sugar content. A 2021 analysis determined that flavored skim milk is the leading source of added sugar in school meals.

Like any sugary drink, consuming larger amounts of chocolate milk over time could contribute to obesity and other health problems, such as an increased risk of diabetes, Beth Conlon, dietician and founder of From the Start tells Yahoo Life nutrition. Consuming too many sugary drinks can also lead to tooth decay.

The American Heart Association recommends that children between the ages of 2 and 18 limit their intake of added sugars to less than 25 grams per day and drink no more than 8 ounces of sugary beverages per week. While about 12 grams of sugar in a cup of chocolate milk comes from naturally occurring lactose, the other 10 to 13 grams comes from added sugar.

Cutting chocolate milk from the school menu may help reduce overall sugar intake in children, but likely at the cost of having less milk, which contains protein and calcium, a study of 11 elementary schools in the United States found. Oregon.

However, another study examining a one-year ban on chocolate milk in middle and high schools showed a significant decrease in students’ consumption of added sugar, but only a slight decrease in milk intake of less than 1 ounce per student. The success of this ban is largely attributed to explaining the change clearly to students before it happened.

What are the benefits of keeping chocolate milk in schools?

The USDA dietary guidelines state that children are not getting enough calcium, vitamin D, potassium, magnesium or fiber. Milk, flavored and unflavored, provides four out of five of these nutrients, Barbara Baron, a registered dietitian specializing in pediatric nutrition, tells Yahoo Life.

Conlon explains that chocolate milk can be a great way to help kids meet their protein and calcium needs. An eight-ounce serving of low-fat chocolate milk has about 150 calories, 8 grams of protein, including all the essential amino acids you can get from food alone, and up to 30 percent of the daily calcium requirement for kids ages 4. at 18 years old.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, fewer than 15 percent of adolescent girls meet the recommended daily allowance of calcium, which is a key nutrient for children and adolescents for building strong bones and teeth, Sarah Pflugradt, Dietitian and Founder of Fueling Active Kids, he tells Yahoo Life.

Offering chocolate milk at school can encourage children to reach the recommended three servings of dairy per day. This can be especially important for children who don’t consume enough dairy products at home, says Conlon. For children who are eligible for free lunch and breakfast, up to 50% of their nutrition can come from school.

Pflugradt adds: Let’s not forget how many children go through bouts of picky eating and may not be getting a wide range of foods that offer protein, calcium and vitamin D. Chocolate milk can help fill these nutrition gaps and support healthy growth during these evolutionary years.

Are some brands of chocolate milk better?

While most brands of chocolate milk are nutritionally similar, some add nutrients specifically beneficial for growing children. Horizon Organic, for example, adds DHA omega-3s, which support brain and eye health.

Since chocolate milk doesn’t have to be super sweet to be tasty, Pflugradt recommends choosing a chocolate milk with a low amount of added sugar. One example is Fairlife Chocolate Milk, which contains 50% more protein and 50% less sugar than regular chocolate milk by including the artificial sweetener sucralose.

If there’s no added sugar, it likely has an alternative sweetener, making it a personal decision whether to choose that brand, Pflugradt says.

Should chocolate milk be banned?

Overall, these pediatric nutritionists advocate leaving chocolate milk on the menu for all school-age children. The National School Lunch Program is important and constantly changing to help improve the diets of American children, but I think the demonization of chocolate milk is misguided, Pflugradt says.

And, as Baron points out, low-fat flavored milk is a powerful nutrient package that kids love. Experts recommend limiting chocolate milk to 8 oz. instead. serve per day and taking into account its overall added sugar content.

However, what may be more important, experts say, is being aware of food messages to children to help them make informed choices and foster a healthy relationship with food as adults. Katie Shepherd, dietitian and owner of Food Explorers, tells Yahoo Life that labeling foods as good, bad or unhealthy can lead to binge eating behaviors when a limited food becomes available.

Bottom line, Shepherd says, when evaluating added sugar, look at your child’s diet as a whole, not just their drinks at school.

Maxine Yeung is a certified dietitian and health and wellness coach.

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