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Is Chocolate Milk Good or Bad?

Is Chocolate Milk Good or Bad?

Given all the publicity around sugar-laden drinks and high fructose corn syrup, the idea of drinking chocolate milk can be a confusing prospect!  I will attempt to weigh the pros and cons of chocolate milk, and in the end, I hope you will have enough information to take the fear out of offering chocolate milk, or confirm the feelings you have.

Chocolate milk is considered flavored milk. The addition of chocolate adds sugar, calories, and a boost of sweet flavor.  Many children enjoy the addition of chocolate milk to their lunch, and the school lunch program has been scrutinized for making this beverage part of the daily fare for children.

Pros of Chocolate Milk:

Nutrient Composition: Chocolate milk has an abundance of necessary nutrients that children require for healthy growth and development, including protein, calcium, Vitamin D, and potassium. Unfortunately, we are blinded by sugar!  Many people hear the word chocolate and think sugar. These thoughts may override the important nutrients present in chocolate milk.  Rest assured, the good nutrients outweigh the sugar, as long as balance is kept in the overall diet.

Taste: Chocolate milk tastes good!  Children like to eat food that tastes good, and that holds true for drinking milk.  Studies have indicated that milk consumption is higher in schools when chocolate milk (or flavored milk) is offered.

Sports nutrition: Chocolate milk has been studied as a post-exercise recovery drink, and from all indicators, chocolate milk has a positive impact on muscle recovery, and replenishment of glycogen stores in muscle tissue.  From soccer players to cyclists, it appears that chocolate milk has positive effects on the body’s ability to recover.  Athletes take note:  8 to 10 ounces of chocolate milk appears to do the trick.

Cons of Chocolate Milk:

Overconsumption: It’s true with anything you eat–too much is too much, and this goes for chocolate milk also.  Too much of a good thing can be bad for you. Chocolate milk can be part of a healthy and satisfying diet. Aim for three servings of dairy per day, and be conscious of the recommendations for sugar (less than 10% of total caloric intake).

For You To Decide:

Schools: Many schools have eliminated chocolate milk.  Is this the right thing to do? When chocolate milk is pulled out of schools, overall milk consumption drops by an average of 35 percent.  Studies suggest this occurred because fewer students choose milk (clearly their preference was chocolate/flavored over white), and more milk was wasted. Unfortunately, a new or improved acceptance of white milk simply did not occur.

Shortfall Nutrients: The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans state that calcium and Vitamin D continue to be shortfall nutrients (nutrients with inadequate intake) for children.  And a review of calcium intake and status in children indicate that up to 50% of children as young as 2 years are not getting enough calcium.  The dietitian in me knows that children can get calcium from other food sources, like fortified orange juice and green leafy veggies. The realist in me knows that many children don’t choose to eat alternative calcium sources or they aren’t served in the home.

Here’s how I approach chocolate milk with my own children:

I aim for three servings of milk or dairy foods each day.  I don’t regularly purchase chocolate milk for my home.  If they choose it at school, that’s fine with me, as that will be the only place they will get it (and our school serves low-fat chocolate milk).

To villify and eliminate chocolate milk would mean that I would have to be consistent across the board, and eliminate the flavored coffee that I occasionally drink, the birthday cakes that I serve, the Thanksgiving pie in which I indulge, and the “fun food” (high fat, high sugar treats and junky food) that I sometimes let my children eat.

Making chocolate milk the “bad guy” gets us stuck in the muck, and it becomes difficult to classify and navigate the other foods in our less than perfect diets. It’s less about chocolate milk, and more about the balance, variety, and amounts of all the foods we serve children.  Let us be better at teaching about choice, variety, balance, and amounts, rather than spending time and energy instilling fear and confusion about chocolate milk.

Jill Castle Jill Castle is a registered dietitian/nutritionist with expertise in pediatric nutrition. She is the co-author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School, and creator of Just the Right Byte, a childhood nutrition blog. Follow Jill on Twitter @pediRD and Facebook.
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