It’s an recurring debate in parenting circles: to flavor or not to flavor a child's milk. Those against think we’re creating the next generation of sugar-addicted chocoholics. Those in favor of flavor think the former are a bunch of nutritionally uptight helicopter parents.
While I would never refer to any of my loving parents as nutritionally uptight helicopter types, I have to side with those who flavor. Sorry. So why shouldn’t we be concerned about powdered flavoring in milk?
The big argument: sugar. Adding flavoring, of course, increases sugar consumption in milk-guzzling kids. And a half-pint of chocolate milk provides 75 calories more than it’s plain white counterpart. But a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that flavored milk consumption in school-aged children was associated with less soda intake. And from this study it appears that the sugar intake from flavored milk offsets that from soda – so as far as sugar is concerned, children don’t appear to consume more of it when drinking flavored milk. Data from the Nutrition Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) also found that flavored milks contributed only 2 percent of total added sugar in children's diets, compared to 50 percent or more added by soft drinks and fruit drinks. Another study published this year also in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found no increase in body mass index among children who drink flavored milk.
Admittedly flavored milk adds some sugar but not to a fault. So while I’m onboard with minimizing sugar, chocolate milk may not be the battle to pick.
If they have chocolate will they ever go back? Tainted taste buds are a frequent preoccupation of parents. But if they’re not keen on plain milk to begin with, you’ve got nothing to lose. And for the picky eater, milk may be a key means of getting calcium and protein into your child.
Milk, flavored or not, delivers calcium. An 8-ounce serving of milk provides 300 mg of calcium, about one-third to one-fourth of the daily calcium requirement for children. And when it comes to calcium and kids we need to take it where we can get it. The older children get the more likely they are to replace milk with soda and sports drinks – a move associated with decreased intake of riboflavin, folate, vitamins A and C, calcium and phosphorus.
Who needs milk, anway? Finally, let me throw a big wrench in things by adding that milk in children may be highly overrated. While we’ve all been raised to believe that we must not leave the table until we've finished our milk, this may actually be more of a cultural/parental habit. In fact, there are no individual foods that we can’t live without. While I love milk as a vehicle for protein and calcium, these nutrients can be found other places. And although I exploit the fantastic qualities of milk regularly in my patients with poor diets, many kids can go without. Call me a heretic and bring on the American Dairy Council!