Does flavored milk have as much sugar as soda?

IF YOU WATCHED JAMIE OLIVER’S FOOD REVOLUTION, you know one of his biggest beefs with school lunches is the flavored milk. Chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla milks have as much sugar as the same amount of soda.

Jamie was told that if only plain milk is offered, kids won’t drink it and they’ll lose out on calcium. He was also told that the school is required to offer various flavors of milk. I haven’t yet been able to find that little gem on the USDA web site (if I do, you’ll be the first to know), but I did find a document (pdf) stating reimbursable school lunches must offer milk “in a variety of fat contents.” The milk can be regular, flavored, or lactose-free. Is it possible the school Jamie visited misinterpreted this regulation?

I’m not sure. But I am sure kids shouldn’t be consuming that much sugar in one drink every day – twice a day if the child eats breakfast at school (not to mention any other juice, soda, or energy drinks consumed.)

Here’s a look at the sugar content in some common flavored milks, juices, and sodas (all 8 ounce servings).


Product Sugars
MILK:
Plain Milk 1% Lowfat 12g
Horizon Organic Milk Reduced Fat Chocolate 27g
Nestle Nesquik Milk Chocolate Lowfat 30g
Nestle NesQuik Milk Strawberry 31g
Organic Valley Chocolate Lowfat Milk 25g
Hershey’s 2% Chocolate Milk 29g
SODA:
Coca-Cola Classic 27g
Sprite 26g
A & W Root Beer 31g
JUICE:
Capri Sun Juice Drink Red Berry 21 g
Apple & Eve 100% Juice Apple 22g

ALL THE FLAVORED MILKS CONTAIN carrageenan (a seaweed additive which increases viscosity) and added salt. The NesQuik has high fructose corn syrup and sugar, as well as dyes and a slew of other additives. Plain milk is just milk with vitamin A and D added.

The juices not only have very high sugar content but most of the vitamins are added, not the natural vitamins as you would get eating a piece of fruit.

WILL KIDS STOP DRINKING MILK if they can’t get chocolate or strawberry? Maybe at first. But if the only options are plain milk or water, kids will choose one of the two because they’re be thirsty.

As parents and educators, we are responsible for making sure kids eat healthy. Of course a child will select the sugary option if given the choice. But just as we wouldn’t let our kids choose cake for dinner every night just because it has eggs in it, we shouldn’t allow them to drink liquid sugar just because it has calcium in it.

I used to feel okay about letting my kids have Horizon flavored milk once in a while. I thought because the label said “organic”, the product inside was healthy. I forgot to take the time to read the ingredients. I’ll still let my kids have flavored milk occasionally, but I don’t feel okay about it any more. Which is good, because I’ll treat it like any other treat instead of like milk.

The bottom line: Kids don’t need extra sugar, salt, and other stuff. If you have no other option but soda, flavored milk, or juice, choose flavored milk or juice. But the best thing to do is give kids only milk or water. Save the juice and flavored milk for special occasions.

7 comments for “Does flavored milk have as much sugar as soda?

  1. Sharon
    April 27, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    I have to disagree on this one. To say ‘no chocolate milk’ would mean no milk in our house. No matter how often I offer it plain (and I’ve been trying for 5 years!) my son will not drink it.

    My 7-year-old does not eat much dairy and he needs his calcium. I compromise by often making my own chocolate milk, which at least allows me to control the amount of chocolate. But since I do let my kids have some sugar each day, I am ok with it coming from something that gives them some necessary nutrition. My kids drink water otherwise – no juice, at least in the house. So I think it is really, as usual, an issue of control and moderation.

  2. cat
    April 28, 2010 at 7:05 am

    Sharon, you’re right that I neglected to talk about making your own chocolate milk. When you make your own you can control the sugar content for sure. The chocolate syrup I have contains 17 g sugar in two tablespoons and I don’t use anywhere near that much for my kids.

    By making your own chocolate milk, you can also pick a syrup that doesn’t use high fructose corn syrup or have added sodium.

    Thanks for sharing, Sharon.

  3. April 28, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    I have less of a problem with sugars that are naturally a part of a product (like the sugars in plain milk) than I do with added sugars. Because of my bias against added sugars, I have a hard time with the comparison of flavored milks and sodas. According to the chart, 12g of the sugars in the flavored milk comes from the milk itself! So, only 13-19g are added. (I know…that’s still a lot, but it’s less than the added sugar in a soda!)

    In the end, we agree. Water or plain milk is the better choice by a long shot! But, I’m not going to beat myself up too much if I have to resort to flavored milk on occasion.

  4. cat
    April 30, 2010 at 11:39 am

    Cathy, that’s a really good point. The added sugars are the bigger issue, as well as the other additives, including (but definitely not limited too) salt, artificial flavors, and dyes.

  5. February 15, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    I am glad that schools offer flavored milk. But I wish they would encourage kids to drink more white milk. And if kids are going to be able to get flavored milk on a daily basis, they should serve varieties that contain less sweeteners.

    I always presented “Marble milk” (pouring white milk into chocolate but not stirring so it had an uneven color) as a treat when my daughter was little. It caused some problems when she started school and was offered strawberry or chocolate milk twice a day. But after several nutrition-related talks in our home, she once again sees the flavored milks as a treat and only picks them up once a week or so.

    My point? Kids need to be given some guidance then an opportunity to make the right choice while their parents aren’t around. A daily bottle of overly-sugared chocolate milk should be discouraged. But it sounds like a fairly safe place to give kids a little control in their life. (especially when balanced out by 45 minute or an hour of running around in PE and recess)

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