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Flavored Milk: The Latest School Lunch Obstacle

April 25, 2011

Flavored milk has become the front line for a food fight of epic proportion. With the help of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, attention has been brought upon the allowance of flavored milk in schools.  

During his most recent episode, which aired April 12, Oliver was outraged by the chocolate milk L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD) serves their students, suggesting the added sugar in chocolate milk is a major contributor to diet-related diseases affecting U.S. children. After much debate from administrators, health professionals, parents, and media personalities, the question remains, should flavored milk be eliminated from schools?    

MILK: A NUTRIENT-RICH FOOD

Both the Dietary Guidelines and MyPyramid emphasize the importance of choosing nutrient-rich foods. Nutrient-rich foods provide the most vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients with relatively few calories. Milk—whether it’s white, chocolate or strawberry—is considered nutrient-rich because it is packed with nine essential nutrients that are important for kids’ health. These nutrients include calcium, potassium, vitamin D and protein, which help build healthy bodies and strong bones in growing children.

A decline in milk consumption, flavored or plain, may have serious, long-term effects on bone health of today’s youth.  Milk’s nutrient-rich package is difficult to find in other foods that are as affordable or appealing.

WHAT SCIENCE SAYS

Recent studies have shown that children who drink flavored milk actually drink more milk overall and have better quality diets (more calcium, vitamin D and potassium- nutrients many kids don’t get enough of). Additionally, children who consume milk of any variety tend to consume fewer sweetened beverages and more often maintain a healthy body weight.

Maintaining a healthy body weight is especially important for decreasing the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Banning flavored milk could have the opposite affect-placing children and adolescents at risk for nutrient deficiencies and weight gain.

NATURAL VS. ADDED SUGAR

There are two types of sugars found in flavored milk: natural sugar (lactose, found in all milk) and added sugar (usually high-fructose corn syrup). Although eating too much of any food will lead to weight gain, the amount of high-fructose corn syrup in flavored milk is much lower than amounts found in typical soda beverages and sweetened fruit drinks.

One cup of flavored milk usually contains two to four teaspoons of added sugar; sodas and fruit drinks contain up to nine teaspoons of added sugar. These extra calories from sugars in flavored milk are small relative to the amount of essential nutrients children receive.

BENEFITS OUTWEIGH RISKS

Recognizing that many schools want to improve the nutritional quality of their menu, the dairy industry has taken immediate action to reduce fat, calories and added sugars in flavored milk. Today, the majority of milk in schools is low-fat or fat-free and the majority of flavored milk is at or below 150 calories per serving.

Rather than eliminating or banning foods from school meals, decision makers should be focused on providing nutrient-rich foods, like flavored milk, to ensure children get the nutrition they need to perform their best. Besides, nutrition is not nutrition unless a child consumes it. And from what we’ve learned, students are drinking flavored milk.

References

1. “Flavored Milk.” Dairy Council of California. Dairy Council of California, 12 April 2011. Web. 19 April 2011. < http://dairycouncilofca.org/Milk-Dairy/MilkFlavor.aspx&gt;. Johnson, Rachel K., Carol Frary, and Min Qi Wang.

2. “The nutritional consequences of flavored-milk consumption by school-aged children and adolescents in the United States.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 102.6 (June 2002): 853-856.

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