My kids like to drink milk, but it’s not something they drink often. After interviewing experts about the benefits and drawbacks of different types of milk for this Fox News story, I was sold on the research that shows cow’s milk is inflammatory, linked to a host of diseases, and it’s not even the best source of calcium in the first place. From time to time, my kids also indulge in chocolate milk but it’s usually for a special occasion. Lately, I’ve been thinking more and more about why school lunch isn’t healthy and its link to childhood obesity, and because it’s on the school lunch menu, it begs the question, is chocolate milk good for kids?
Is Chocolate Milk Good for Kids?
Benefits of drinking chocolate milk
In schools, serving chocolate milk is seen by proponents as a way to encourage kids to drink milk when they otherwise wouldn’t.
According to DairyMAX, a non-profit organization affiliate of the Dairy Council, flavored milk is good for kids for some of the following reasons:
- Kids who drink flavored milk drink more milk overall.
- Kids who consume flavored milk get more nutrients than kids who don’t drink milk.
- Kids who drink flavored milk are less likely to drink soda and juice.
When it comes to the benefits of chocolate milk, let’s take a look at the nutritional composition of one cup of low-fat chocolate milk:
Protein: 8.1 grams
Carbohydrates: 26.1 grams
Dietary fiber: 1.2 grams
Sugars: 24.8 grams
Fat: 2.5 grams
Calcium: 29 %DV
Vitamin D: 25 %DV
Riboflavin: 24 %DV
Phosphorus: 26 %DV
Milk also has other nutrients like vitamins A, B6, B12, magnesium, niacin, selenium and zinc, as well as omega-3 fatty acids.
There’s no doubt chocolate milk has some nutritional value, including calcium, which kids need for strong teeth and bones.
Yet there are far better sources of calcium than milk, which also don’t contain growth hormones, allergenic proteins and antibiotics.
- Chia seeds
- Black turtle beans
- Sardines (my kids love them!)
- Sesame seeds
- Bok choy
- Collard greens
- Collard greens
- Turnip greens
Is chocolate milk good for kids as a post-workout recovery drink?
In addition to school lunch, chocolate milk is also often promoted as a post-workout recovery drink for athletes.
Thanks to its’ protein, carbohydrates, fat and water and electrolytes, chocolate milk may be a great recovery drink that rebuilds and refuels muscles, according to research out of the University of Connecticut.
In fact, a June 2018 meta-analysis in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found drinking chocolate milk has similar—or superior—results compared to either water or other sports drinks.
However, it’s important to note that the authors say this isn’t definitive and more research is needed.
Interestingly, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says flavored milk in schools is OK, but instead of sports and energy drinks (which are also high in sugar) after a workout, water is best. Sort of contradictory, right?
Drawbacks of drinking chocolate milk
Although it’s a good (but not the best) source of calcium for strong teeth and bones, as you can see, chocolate milk is high in sugar: 24 grams or more sugar than a Mr. Goodbar!
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend we limit sugar to no more than 10 percent of our total calories for the day.
For kids, that works out to be about 30 to 35 grams of added sugar for little ones who get between 1,200 and 1,400 calories a day, according to Jessica Cording, a registered dietitian-nutritionist in New York City.
Diets high in sugar are proven to lead to weight gain and obesity, type-2 diabetes, fatty liver disease and heart disease—all conditions that can follow kids throughout their lives.
Chocolate milk, as well as soda, sweetened ice teas, lemonade, sports and energy drinks, fruit punch, and apple juice already make up a majority of the amount of sugar kids get in their diets.
In fact, between 2011 and 2014, 63 percent of kids consumed a sugar-sweetened beverage on any given day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The other drawback of drinking chocolate milk is that some brands add artificial ingredients and additives.
One more thing to consider is the motivation behind serving chocolate milk in schools.
Despite a lack of evidence that milk is the best food to build strong bones—and may actually lead to more fractures—the government mandates schools serve milk at every meal because they can’t get their federal lunch money unless they do, Dr. Mark Hyman states in his book, “Food: What The Heck Should I Eat.”
Although studies show that when chocolate milk is removed from school lunch menus, milk consumption drops, I’m not so sure this is a bad thing.
In fact, in February 2019, The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine called on the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to update the new guidelines to include a warning about the health dangers of dairy.
Regardless of where you stand on giving your kids regular milk or chocolate milk, I think it’s a good idea to take stock of their diets overall.
For example, if your child eats a mainly whole foods diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy protein and fats, and whole grains, there’s probably nothing wrong with serving up chocolate milk for an occasional treat or dessert.
If your kids already eat a lot of sugar however, including sneaky sugars like those found in yogurt, cereal, dressings, sauces and dried and canned fruits, chocolate milk isn’t going to do their bodies any good.