Got Milk, Bananas, or Apples Without Sugar?

The law of unintended consequences is at work in all places and at all times. One of these places is schools, where some are advocating for the removal of chocolate milk from cafeterias. And, the reason might seem reasonable: the amount of sugar in chocolate milk. Yes, there is sugar in milk, even in plain, unflavored white milk; it is called lactose. There are about 12 grams of lactose in white milk. But did you know there is also sugar in bananas or apples? It’s called fructose. Both lactose and fructose are naturally occurring sugars which are carbohydrates that help fuel your body. But it’s the added sugar in flavored milk that is at the heart of the controversy. An 8 oz serving of chocolate milk has about 1 tablespoon of added sugar, for a total of 26 grams (12 of it being lactose). That’s nothing compared to the sugar my sister used to put on her cereal every morning! She’d sprinkle a heaping spoonful of sugar on the dry toasted oat rings, then shake the bowl so the sugar would move down, then repeat the process several times before finally pouring on some milk. Amazing!

Now, back to the concept of unintended consequences. Sure, you can remove chocolate milk from the choices kids have at school. But when that happens you’re also decreasing their opportunity to consume three of the five “nutrients of concern” (calcium, potassium, fiber, magnesium, and vitamin E) for children, as stated in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines. Of course, white milk contains these nutrients, but that is assuming the children will take and drink it. A recent study showed that when flavored milk was removed, total milk consumption dropped by an average of 35%. According to Linda Stoll, MPH, Executive Director of Food Services in Jefferson County, CO, “When flavored milk was not an option, many children wouldn’t take the white milk, or if they did, they wouldn’t drink it. The white milk frequently got thrown away”. To make up the nutrients lost from the decline in milk consumption, 3-4 additional food items were needed to match milk’s nutrient contribution. That, in turn, added back more calories and fat than were being reduced. These additional food items also added back roughly half of the sugar, netting a savings of only 15-28 grams/week. Plus the cost of the meal goes up with the additional foods. For more information about the study, check out Milk Delivers.

So it’s great that people are getting more concerned with what they’re putting in their mouths. But don’t let some sensationalism get in the way of our kids’ health. By the way, a medium banana has 26.7 grams of sugar (fructose) and a medium raw apple with the skin has 21.1. Now, how do you feel about the amount of sugar in an 8 oz. glass of chocolate milk?

For ways in which you can help keep chocolate milk in your child’s school, visit Raise Your Hand for Chocolate Milk.