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Drink To Your Health: Chocolate Milk

After tweeting back-and-forth a few times with @ phdinparenting about the advertising of chocolate milk in schools, she posted her thoughts more fully at http://www.phdinparenting.com/. This is my response.

Milk, and even chocolate milk, can and certainly are health drinks; whatever that term means. The short answer is that milk itself contains many beneficial nutrients. And contrary to @phdinparenting, these nutrients are “essential,” as noted on Oprah.com:

Calcium – builds health bones
Protien – a source of energy and muscle repair
Potassium – maintains blood pressure
Phosphorus – strengthens bones
Vitamin D – more bone goodness
Vitamin B12 – maintains red blood cells and nerve tissue
Vitamin A – immunity support, vision and skin benefits
Riboflavin (B2) – energy booster
Niacin – metabolizes sugars and fatty acids

In fact, the nutrition label lists significant amounts of 14 vitamins and mineral.  The nutrition grade on Caloriecount.com varies by producer, but for 1% chocolate milk ranges from an A- nutrition grade to a “C” nutrition grade. Not too shabby. As Dr. Sears says, milk is “one-stop shopping for nutrition.;”

And while @Phdinparenting is correct that that many if not all of milk’s nutrients and benefits can be consumed in some other form, that is true of pretty much all foods. No single food has a monopoly on any nutrient, with the possible exception of fish as the best source of fatty acids. Even then there are other sources. The fact that some other food can provide one of the nine nutrients in milk is hardly a reason to condemn milk. Remember, it’s “one-stop shopping," not "last-stop shopping"

I think @phdinparenting wisely avoids comparing chocolate milk to something entirely devoid of nutrition like soda in favor of a healthy-to-healty comparison.  But the fact is, choosing low-fat/fat-free chocolate milk over whole white milk saved school kids in New York 5,960 calories and 619g of fat; per year.  Further, rather than having a “ton” of sugar, low-fat chocolate milk actually has about 2-3 teaspoons more sugar than whole milk. Hardly a crisis for a child with an otherwise balanced and healthy diet.  Personally, I'll take an additional 2-3 teaspoons more sugar than milk over thousands of calories per year.

And that is some of the point here: milk isn’t a perfect food, but there probably isn’t one; yes, all the stuff in milk can be found in other foods, but if you are infinitely more likely to be able to get your child to drink one glass of chocolate milk than the 6 or 8 vegetables/fruit/proteins necessary to match the nutrients. And possibly at less calories.

Further, numerous studies have found chocolate milk superior to white milk for nutritional value and have linked long-term consumption to improved life-expectancy of up to 6 years. Milk consumption reduces total body fat, as would be expected from such a good source of protein. Given that we are in the middle of an obesity epidemic, this last fact should not be overlooked. Muscle burns calories, even when at rest, unlike fat. Consuming protein can help you maintain a lean body, and a good protein to body weight ratio, which can help keep you thin. By trying to cut out milk/chocolate milk to save calories, you are actually potentially contributing to the very obesity epidemic you are trying to fight.

But lets address the two real boogie men: the chocolate and the advertising.

First the chocolate.  Real chocolate contains flavonoids that reduce inflammation and have been shown to reduce pain as well as numerous disease, including arthritis. And its not as if you can simply skim away the chocolate from the milk, school districts in Washington and Berkeley, Calif., that banned chocolate milk reinstituted chocolate milk after seeing a drop in overall milk consumption.

The case against the advertising is a much, much stronger one, and I can't honestly say where I fall.  My triplets are 8-months old and I haven't encountered this type of problem yet.  But I have to say that cutting off advertising of chocolate milk seems like a pretty arbitrary line.  First of all, this was a high school.  While still impressionable, these students are hardly elementary school children still forming into who they will become.  Teens need to be able to make decisions for themselves, and as any parent of a teen will tell you, they will.  They'll stop at the convience store for energy drinks and soda and Snicker's bars regardless of your wishes.  They also need to learn to be able to critically address advertising, which will soon be all around them, if it isn't already.  Sheilding them from any type of advertising until ... well, when exactly, college years?... only sets them up for failure.  And I'm extremely hesitant to ban anything based on my preferences. 

Today's ban on milk is tomorrow's ban on fat.  Wait, fat is back in good graces and its trans fat that is bad; lets move on to eggs, sorry, eggs are healthy again, too.  At least we can all agree on chicken; hold on, I have to take this call, its the vegetarians.

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