Flavored milk still does a body good

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Famous British chef Jamie Oliver has stirred a school milk controversy in West Virginia that won't go away.

Flavored milk got a bum rap on "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution," say Department of Education officials.

Oliver arrived in Huntington last fall to help change the eating habits of what was deemed the unhealthiest city in America. His six-part, primetime show on ABC concluded on April 23.

In Cabell County schools, Oliver focused on replacing high-fat processed foods with fresh fare amidst challenges ranging from skepticism to cost. He also campaigned for the removal of chocolate and strawberry milk in school cafeterias, saying it contains as much if not more sugar than pop.

"It got a lot of people up in the air over nothing," said Richard Goff, director of the child nutrition program for the education department. "It was sad so much was taken out of context.

"It is not true that there is more sugar in flavored milk than soda. It frustrates me. Milk is nutrient dense. Soda is not. Soda is empty calories and a leading contributor to childhood obesity."

While brands can vary, an average 8-ounce serving of low-fat chocolate milk has four teaspoons of added sugar while the same size serving of soft drink has seven teaspoons, Goff said. Even taking into account the natural sugars in lactose, the soda would have more sugar, he noted.

Goff said it is important to inform the public of the pluses of flavored milk.

First of all, kids will drink it and, therefore, obtain its nutritional value.

When chocolate and strawberry milk was temporarily pulled from schools, consumption dropped 25 percent. With flavored options gone, some kids started bringing pop from home, Goff said.

A state policy says: "At all grade levels, it is recommended that only water, 100 percent fruit and/or vegetable juice and non-fat and/or 1 percent low-fat milk, flavored or unflavored, be sold, served or distributed during the school day."

Flavored milk provides the same essential nutrients as white milk, including calcium, potassium, phosphorus, protein, vitamins A, D, and B12, riboflavin and niacin, according to a fact sheet from Goff's office.

A report entitled "Flavored Milk in Perspective" from the National Dairy Council says flavored milks - whole, reduced fat, low-fat or fat-free - contain the same nutrients as unflavored milk. The report notes that chocolate milk contains two to four teaspoons of added sugar that accounts for about 60 more calories per serving than unflavored milk.

Goff said the amount of sugar added varies with brands. So, extra calories in an eight-ounce serving could be 32, 48 or 64.

The report also notes teeth may be protected from decay by components in flavored milk including calcium, phosphorus, and, in chocolate milk, cocoa.

Goff said he doesn't know when flavored milk was introduced in schools but said it has been available for at least two decades.

"It was never viewed as evil," he said. "Sometimes we as adults want to speak for children. We must make meals appealing to our children."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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