Chocolate milk is in the headlines again. After a number of schools banned flavored milk from school cafeterias in the past year, these dairy products are returning to some lunch trays, albeit featuring somewhat modified formulas.
For example, this month — partly because of parental, student and other external pressures — Fairfax County, Va., officials announced that they would reintroduce chocolate milk in school cafeterias, according to the Washington Post.
Recognizing that many schools want to reduce the sugar content in all their menu offerings, the dairy industry has taken action to reduce fat, calories and added sugars in flavored milk.
The majority of milk in schools today is low-fat or fat-free, and the majority of flavored milk is at or below 150 calories. The newer formulas have 2 to 3 teaspoons of added sugar compared to 3 to 4 teaspoons of added sugar in traditional formulas.
“Last time I checked, chocolate milk had nine essential nutrients, just like white milk,” says Karen Giles-Smith, registered dietitian and director of nutrition communications for the United Dairy Industry of Michigan. “Yes, chocolate milk has a little more sugar than white milk; however, there’s no denying that chocolate milk is a nutrient-rich beverage.”
During the recent fervor to remove flavored milks from school menus, officials, parents and dietitians learned that there were some unintended consequences from these actions.
According to an ABC news report, “Although chocolate milk is more sugary than white milk, it is less sugary and tends to have fewer calories than other beverages kids prefer, including soda. By removing chocolate milk from school cafeterias, children are choosing more caloric drinks found at school or from stores after school.”
When critics claim chocolate milk has too much sugar, they’re looking at the total sugar instead of focusing on the added sugar and comparing it to the added sugar in other beverages, explains Giles-Smith in a recent posting on The Dairy Dish blog. “In 8 ounces, (soda) pop contains about 7 teaspoons of added sugar. And, let’s not forget that milk has many nutrients that pop does not.”
Several physicians have taken a stand in favor of serving flavored milks in schools. For instance, check out this recent segment from Dr. Manny Alvarez on Fox News Channel’s “Happening Now” program.
Still, don’t expect the challenge to serving flavored milk in schools to go away. “Trying to get students to consume calcium by drinking chocolate milk is like getting them to eat apples by serving them apple pie,” said Ann Cooper, a leading advocate for healthy school lunches, told the Washington Post.