Commentary: Time to modernize chocolate milk industry

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Dino Giacomazzi has been trying since May 6, 2011 to get this letter published in one of the LA newspapers but was unsuccessful. Since L.A. Unified voted against chocolate milk in school lunches, he posted the following to his blog.

Dear Editor,

This is an open letter to Jamie Oliver and John Deasy, Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and anyone else who thinks about things like chocolate milk in our schools. I’m a fourth generation California dairy farmer, a father, and a local school board member. I happen to agree with Jamie Oliver that there is too much sugar in chocolate milk. But I appeal to Jamie and the LAUSD to not throw out the proverbial “baby with the bath water.” Now’s the time to use your clout and the national spotlight to help move dairy processors toward producing low-sugar flavored milk so that kids can still have access to all of the great nutritional benefits of milk.

I have no doubt that Jamie is a reasonable man who sincerely wants to help America in its fight against childhood obesity. I applaud him for his efforts. There are many causes behind this epidemic and I’m willing to consider all of them, including chocolate milk.  However, it’s simplistic to demonize one food and ban it completely, especially a food that delivers so much nutrition. The good news is that when it comes to flavored milk there is a middle ground, and I hope Jamie is listening.

We face a conundrum here. In our land of plenty we have children who don’t get the recommended nutrients of importance for healthy growth. One of these nutrients is vitamin D, as reported in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Vitamin D is an essential nutrient because it promotes calcium absorption that leads to healthy bones. Milk is the number one source of calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus in children’s diets.1 Chocolate milk represents, potentially, the last hope for parents trying to provide nutritious foods to their family without facing epic battles. Flavored milk contains the same nine essential nutrients as white milk – calcium, potassium, phosphorus, protein, vitamins A, D and B12, riboflavin and niacin.

In schools, low-fat chocolate milk is the most popular milk choice and kids drink less milk – and get fewer nutrients – when it’s taken away. Also, while dropping chocolate milk from the menus of children who have healthy diets may be fine, for many children this one serving of chocolate milk at school is the most nutritious food they consume all day. It’s sad, but true.

The dairy industry has been working to develop a “smarter” chocolate milk. We’ve done this because leading health and nutrition organizations such as the American Dietetic Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Academy of Pediatrics recognize the valuable role of flavored milk in the diets of American children.

The “smarter” chocolate milk I refer to is sweetened with stevia, a 100% natural zero calorie sweetener. I’ve tasted a version of this chocolate milk and it’s great.  Each serving has 71% less added sugar, 50 fewer calories, 13 grams fewer carbohydrates and 10 grams fewer total sugars than traditional chocolate milk while providing the same amount of calcium, vitamin D and protein.

There’s a precedent for the success of such a program. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, by switching chocolate milk in New York schools from whole milk to low-fat milk, 5,960 fewer calories and 619 fewer grams of fat were served to children in 2009 versus 2004. In addition, milk sales actually increased, showing that the students found the change acceptable.

Dairy farmers understand the problem with traditional chocolate milk and we’ve been trying for years to encourage processors to produce lower sugar chocolate milk. Now that solutions are available, it’s time to move.

Let’s get serious about working together to help our children. I implore Jamie Oliver and John Deasy to sit down with me to talk about this exciting new option in chocolate milk.  I believe we have a solution where everyone can be happy.

Thanks for your consideration,

Dino Giacomazzi
Giacomazzi Dairy

1. Murphy M, Douglass J, Latulippe M, Barr S, Johnson R, Frye C.
Beverages as a source of energy and nutrients in diets of children and
adolescents. The FASEB Journal 2005; A434,275.4.

Source: Dino Giacomazzi

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Sacramento  |  June, 16, 2011 at 03:27 PM

You will most likely need to deal with more than just Jamie Oliver, namely, the artificial sugar industry. They have done everything in their power to prevent stevia from mainstream use.

June, 18, 2011 at 09:28 PM

Absolutly... it trips me out how much money is made on death and illness in this country

Alhambra, CA  |  June, 16, 2011 at 03:30 PM

Why do we need to encourage kids that everything has to be flavored and sugary to be good? Less sugar is still too much sugar. Drinks like chocolate milk should be no more than special treats, not part of our daily diet. God gave us milk and water to drink for our health. He did not tell us to taint them with sugar and create an epidemic of disease that has pushed health care costs to unmanageable levels.

Dayton, OH  |  June, 16, 2011 at 03:55 PM

@Dave: Certainly, kids should be instructed that not everything needs to be loaded with sugar. That is the responsibility of the PARENTS, not the ever-meddling government. I agree with Mr. Giacomazzi that discouraging a disadvantaged child from his/her only nutritious food choice of the day is not an acceptable solution. If public schools were able to teach something other than material for state equivalency examinations, topics such as smart food choices could be properly instilled in kids at an early age.

Paolo Pecora    
San Jose, CA  |  June, 16, 2011 at 03:31 PM

Children should be offered the healthiest milk we can produce. Milk produced by cows that are raised naturally- without chemical hormones or antibiotics or chemicals that stimulate higher milk production. We know how to raise cows in a sustainable manner - let them eat pasture and walk around, don't pen them up in crowded, industrial lots and force-feed them industrial corn. We can produce milk that is healthy for children and for the land or we can maximize profit. Unfortunately, Mr. Giacomazzi's interest seems to be profit.

clare Mi.  |  June, 16, 2011 at 03:40 PM

I agree with much of your letter that milk is necessary for childrens nutrition especially in schools. Have you considered honey or blue agave for sweeteners? Might be cost prohivitive but i personally dont like artificial sweeteners. Soda pop and energy drinks would surely replace sweetened the sugar fix for many kids either way and I hope Mr. Oliver considers that before abandoning sweetened milk entirely.

france  |  June, 16, 2011 at 04:22 PM

Hi everybody. I live in france not so far from paris. and my english is so bad that i am here to improve it. If i understood, the article is about that someone wants to replace milk? What's more, your milk is sweetened, how awful. Now i m tired having to write such sentences in english. Don't hesitate to correct mistakes. Good night Long

Honolulu  |  June, 16, 2011 at 03:48 PM

Artificial Sweeteners spikes your insulin levels just like sugar does thus preventing weight loss. Add pure cocoa powder to your milk if you want the sweeter milk. Live sugar/artifical free and and there will be no weight issues. I follow a Paleo-esq lifestyle and have never been fitter or healthier.

Honolulu  |  June, 16, 2011 at 03:48 PM

Artificial Sweeteners spikes your insulin levels just like sugar does thus preventing weight loss. Add pure cocoa powder to your milk if you want the sweeter milk. Live sugar/artifical free and and there will be no weight issues. I follow a Paleo-esq lifestyle and have never been fitter or healthier.

Flagstaff, AZ  |  June, 16, 2011 at 03:52 PM

Dino...your logic and path of thought is clear and precise...I would wish that, remembering the joy that chocolate milk brought me at school when I was a child, others would likewise take the moment to say that some things in life should not be messed with...

los angeles  |  June, 16, 2011 at 03:55 PM

The root of the problem is that we keep coming back to this idea that children will not drink their milk unless it tastes like it has as much sugar as soda, whether that sweetness comes from natuaral or artificial sweeteners. Sweetening milk is used as an easy out for parents who are unable or unwilling to give their family enough attention to '"teach" them proper and healthy habits. I was raised in a family that drank only regular milk, and given the option at school, I had no difficulty knowing that I should be drinking the unsweetened milk, just like at home. I think we should continune looking for uncomprimising solutions to our problems, instead of finding an "easy" solution that allows us to put less effort into raising our children (look for efficiency in other profit sectors).

Sacramento  |  June, 16, 2011 at 03:57 PM

Mr Giacomazzi has it backwards. LA School district has removed an inadequate product from it's lunch menu. If he and his fellow dairy producers had produced a healthier chocolate milk it would not have been removed. The onus is on the milk producers, produce a better product and then call LA school district.

Calipatria  |  June, 16, 2011 at 04:10 PM

I agree with Mr. Giacomazzi. As an adult I would love to have a chocolate milk option that is not so darn sweet. It doesn't have be stevia or other artificial sweetners, just less sugar. Good luck.

Los Angeles  |  June, 16, 2011 at 04:41 PM

Why does the stevia chocolate milk not have 100% fewer added calories? Obviously, the ban on flavored milks is not a panacea, as the author here implies. This IS, however, a very important first step towards better nutrition for our kids. He mentions that the serving of chocolate milk might be the only decent nutrition a kid gets all day. Then, what does that say for the rest of the food the LAUSD is serving our kids? Has he seen the JUNK they're trying to foist upon them at every turn? It's time for us to turn away from the highly processed, preservative-laden, plastic-wrapped garbage and turn towards REAL food. French fries should NOT be considered a vegetable! Pizza and nachos should be restricted to one meal a week, if not banned completely as well.

92880  |  June, 16, 2011 at 04:55 PM

When you say "kids can still have access to all of the great nutritional benefits of milk", by "Kids" you do mean baby cows, right?

Texas  |  June, 18, 2011 at 10:10 PM

I applaude Mr. Giacomazzi's efforts and agree with him that the ban on chocolate milk is not a good thing. The thing I find amusing is that Mr. Giacomazzi points to the changeover from whole chocolate milk to low-fat chocolate milk pointing out the drop in calories served. But somehow the obesity epidemic continues full bore. The change to low-fat had no effect. My son's menus at his school are health conscious and prepared according to guidelines that are supposed to be combating childhood obesity. To pretend that modern school lunches are lacking a focus on nutrition and health is laughable. The food is tasteless and unpopular but they are well balanced... And now the modern day puritans have decided to eliminate all chocolate milk. I predict the end result of this new ban will be just as negligible as all the others...

June, 19, 2011 at 05:53 AM

I am from Japan. We have never had sweetned milk (nor fast, fried foods) at school. All children have been drinking plain milk over 50 years. I think Plain milk is sweet. There are so many sugar-containing foods in America, How you can limit daily sugar intake (2tbsp) if you drink sugarly milk everyday at school?

Jackie Schmidts    
Lake Placid, NY  |  June, 20, 2011 at 11:31 AM

The land of fruits and nuts is at it again, taking chocolate milk off the LA school’s menu. Chocolate milk, even if it isn’t served in low-fat is not the reason kids are getting obese in our country, you and I both know it. Trying to demonize chocolate milk as a bad product for kids is Coke and Pepsi's retaliation for having them removed from schools, or wait, have they? Watch out America, how far will we allow food Nazis to go? When will we all realize we should be in control of our own diets? Finally, removing flavored milk from school menus will only lead to other more harmful nutritional deficit problems such as rickets (vitamin D deficiency) which has been a long forgotten disease. Milk is a great product to consume, with or without flavoring!

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