Healthy Debate: Chocolate Verses White Milk

Sweet chocolate milk is causing bitter cafeteria showdowns around the country. School lunch advocates who want the chocolate stuff nixed from the cafeteria menu say it packs almost as much sugar as soda, but others say it's better for kids to drink chocolate milk than no milk at all.

Sweet chocolate milk is causing bitter cafeteria showdowns around the country. School lunch advocates who want the chocolate stuff nixed from the cafeteria menu say it packs almost as much sugar as soda, but others say it's better for kids to drink chocolate milk than no milk at all.

Get our take, plus the pros and cons and the scoop from the National Dairy Council's dietitian.

The Debate

As more and more kids turned to beverages like soda, sports and juice drinks, milk producers pushed flavored milks. Many schools offer both strawberry- and chocolate-flavored milk their cafeterias. Many parents and dietitians (like myself) are worried that daily flavored milk consumption will have kids downing too much sugar. Schools are thinking the same thing: in Fairfax County, Virginia they've banned the stuff completely, and Florida schools may follow suit.

But milk farmers, nutrition directors and some moms ( like Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak) say kids will avoid milk altogether if the sugary drinks are banned. We asked dietitian Karen Kafer from the National Dairy Council to weigh in on the debate.

“Low-fat or fat-free white or flavored milk helps youth get the three daily servings of milk and milk products recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and it provides three of the four 'nutrients of concern' that children do not get enough of—calcium, potassium and magnesium," says Kafer. "Dairies across the U.S. have reformulated flavored milk so it’s lower in both sugar and total calories.  These new products aim to reduce sugar and calories while maintaining great taste, so that kids will drink their milk instead of throwing it away.”

The Nutrition Facts

Low-fat and fat-free (a.k.a. skim or non-fat) milk provides protein, calcium and vitamins D and A. Calcium is especially important for growing bones as is protein for their growing bodies. One cup of milk provides 30 percent of kids' calcium needs. Serving up low-fat and fat-free milk at school provides easy access to these nutrients.

What Studies Show

Several studies have examined the effects of drinking milk (flavored and white) on sugar and calorie intake. Two studies published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in 2002 and 2008 found that those who drank milk (flavored or plain) got in more nutrients like calcium, vitamin A, phosphorus and potassium and didn’t consume more sugar or calories than non-milk drinkers.

The Compromise

My suggestion: serve low-fat and fat-free flavored milk once or twice a week in school as a special treat. But there’s more to this picture that needs to be addressed. Sodas and sugary beverages that have zero nutritional value shouldn’t be allowed in schools period — that includes kids who bring their own lunch.

TELL US: Should chocolate milk be banned from cafeterias?

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby's full bio »

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