Is Chocolate Milk Good?
A Note from Jill: This is an updated post from 2010. I thought it was time to freshen it up!
No doubt, chocolate milk can confuse parents. It’s one of the most FAQ (frequently asked questions) I get: Is chocolate milk good for my child?
Given all the publicity around sugar-laden drinks, high fructose corn syrup and obesity, offering chocolate milk to your child can be a confusing prospect. I will attempt to weigh the pros and cons of chocolate milk in your child’s diet, and in the end, I hope you will have enough information to feel good about your stance, whatever it may be.
Chocolate milk is considered a flavored milk and the addition of chocolate adds sugar, calories, and a boost of sweet flavor. Many children enjoy chocolate milk at lunch, but the school lunch program has been scrutinized for making this beverage part of the daily fare for children.
Whether it has a good influence on your child’s diet or not really boils down to how often, and how much your child is drinking.
In my house, I regularly stock chocolate milk. That’s because I have a few athletes and they use it routinely after they practice or compete. Occasionally, my kids will use it outside of sports practice, but that isn’t the norm.
What Is Good about Chocolate Milk:
The Nutrient Composition
Chocolate milk has an abundance of necessary nutrients that children need for healthy growth and development, including protein, calcium, vitamin D, and potassium. Unfortunately, many parents are blinded by sugar!
You may hear “chocolate” and think sugar.
Where people get confused is they think that the carb content in chocolate milk is entirely from sucrose, or table sugar. But, it’s not. I tried to clarify that point in this article.
Chocolate milk also contains the naturally-occurring sugar called lactose. Put sucrose from chocolate and lactose from milk together and it can certainly look like a hefty dose of sugar! But that number represents the combination of both.
Don’t forget the 9 important nutrients present in chocolate milk. There are good nutrients to be had, especially calcium and vitamin D, which are not always easy for kids to consume when they skip out on milk.
In fact, calcium and vitamin D are consumed inadequately across all age groups (except children under age 2) and all demographics.
My book, The Calcium Handbook: Over 100 Ways to Grow Healthy Bones for Your Child, can help further your understanding and also give you lots of calcium-containing food options to include for your child.
The Flavor, or Taste, of Chocolate Milk
Is chocolate milk good on the taste buds? Many children think so. Children like to eat food that tastes good, and that holds true in the case of drinking milk. Many studies have shown that milk consumption is higher in schools when flavored milk is offered.
It’s Useful as a Recovery Drink after Sports
Chocolate milk has been studied as a post-exercise recovery drink, and from all indicators, it has a positive impact on muscle recovery, and replenishment of glycogen stores in muscle tissue.
From soccer players to cyclists, it appears that, when consumed after prolonged exercise, chocolate milk is good and has positive effects on the body’s ability to recover and rebuild. Parents of athletes take note: 8-10 oz appears to do the trick.
That’s why I stock it in my home routinely.
If you’ve got an athlete, you might be interested in my sports nutrition book for young athletes, called, Eat Like a Champion: Performance Nutrition for Your Young Athlete, where I cover the research and role of chocolate milk.
What May be Bad about Chocolate Milk:
It is true with anything we eat–too much is too much, and this goes for flavored milk, also.
Yes, too much of a good thing can be bad for your child. Think about too much fruit and the resulting trips to the bathroom! (I’ve experienced this first hand with my kids!)
Chocolate milk can be part of a healthy and satisfying diet for your child as long as you keep the quantities consumed in check. Aim for three servings of dairy per day, on average, and be mindful of the portion size and frequency of offering it.
Last, be conscious of the recommendations for sugar (less than 10% of total caloric intake).
What is for You To Decide:
Schools and Chocolate Milk
Many schools have eliminated chocolate milk. Is this the right thing to do? I am not sure.
I am a moderate, so I can see limiting the number of days it is served, and assuring that the type is a low fat version… but a complete ban?
When chocolate milk is pulled out of schools, overall milk consumption drops by an average of 35%. Studies suggest that this occurs because fewer students choose milk (clearly their preference was chocolate or flavored milk over white milk), and more milk was wasted. Unfortunately over time, a new and improved acceptance of white milk simply did not occur, making overall consumption of milk decrease.
The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans state that calcium and vitamin D continue to be shortfall nutrients (nutrients with inadequate intake) for children. A review of calcium intake and status in children indicate that up to 50% of children as young as 2 years are not getting enough calcium.
While the optimist (and dietitian) in me knows that children can get calcium from other sources, the realist in me says, “Children don’t choose those foods, many parents don’t serve them, so they may not be getting enough.”
I believe that these shortfall nutrients may create some real health problems for children as they age, particularly in their bone health. Tune in for the opinion of Dr. Taylor Wallace on this issue, and an update on the role of calcium from food in children’s health.
How I Approach Chocolate Milk with My Children:
I lead with nutrients in mind and seek out the foods that will fulfill my kids’ nutritional requirements. I know that without milk and dairy products, my kiddos are unlikely to get what they need, especially for calcium and vitamin D.
I aim for 3 servings of milk/dairy per day. I used to not purchase chocolate milk for my home when my children were younger. Then, if they chose it at school, that was fine with me, as that was be the only place they were getting it (and our school served low-fat chocolate milk).
Now, as I mentioned, I routinely buy chocolate milk for my young athletes.
I am careful not to vilify or eliminate flavored milk, but rather find ways we can work it in reasonably. I treat chocolate milk just as I would the birthday cakes that I serve, the Thanksgiving pie in which I indulge, and the “fun food” (high fat, high sugar treats and junky food) my children eat.
As I see it, making flavored milk the bad guy gets us stuck in the muck, and it becomes difficult to classify and navigate the other foods in our less than perfect diets. But of course, I like nearly all foods, and want my kids to be open-minded and like them also.
To me, it’s less about chocolate milk, and more about the balance, variety, and amounts of all the foods we serve our children. Let us be better at teaching our children about choice, variety, balance, and amounts, rather than spending time and energy instilling fear and confusion about chocolate milk.
Time well spent, in my humble, dietitian’s opinion.
What’s your stance on chocolate milk? Do you think chocolate milk is good for your child or not? Sound off in the comment section below!
Does your child have trouble with dairy? You might want to review my Milk Comparison Guide, which will help you choose the best alternative milk source for your child. Click on the box below to get it!