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Chocolate Milk + Sippy Cup

Giving a toddler or small child flavored milk, such as chocolate or strawberry, has always been rather frowned upon by the mommy set. But a study in the April 2008 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that children who drink flavored or plain milk consume more nutrients and have a lower or comparable body mass index (BMI) than children who don’t drink milk.

This will be a relief to mothers out there who give their children chocolate or strawberry-flavored milk, many of whom do so because their child won’t drink plain milk. These mothers are often torn between their child’s need for calcium and their concern over the higher sugar content of flavored milk.

Flavored Milk vs. Need for Calcium

Elizabeth Ross, mother of four from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is concerned about her child’s love of flavored milk and her weight. “My daughter, Katelyn, will not drink milk without chocolate in it,” Ross says. “I do worry about the sugar that my daughter is ingesting by drinking chocolate milk all the time. And since she likes the taste so much, she would drink too much milk if I didn’t stop her. I’m afraid the sugar in the chocolate milk might be a factor in gaining weight.”

Other parents, such as Jenn Savedge, a mother of two from Luray, Virginia, are less concerned about weight gain than they are about making sure their children get enough milk in their diet. “Milk is not their favorite drink, and I empathize with that as it’s not mine either,” Savedge says. “Still, I want them to drink some milk each day and I figure chocolate milk is better than no milk at all. I’m not at all worried about their weight. Their diets are fantastic—lots of fruits, veggies and whole grains and they get tons of exercise, so I’m not at all concerned about giving them a little chocolate in their milk.”

Breaking Down the Study

Dr. Mary Murphy, the Nutrition Science Manager for the ENVIRON International Corporation, an international environmental and health sciences consultancy, and the co-author of the milk and BMI (body mass index) study, says this study is important for several reasons. “Many studies provide evidence that milk is an important source of key nutrients,” Dr. Murphy says. “Several studies also suggest that drinking milk has no negative effects on body measures such as BMI. However, there is very little research on the role of flavored milk in the diet.”

The researchers compared nutrient intakes and BMIs among children and adolescents who include flavored milk in their diets, those who drink only plain milk and those who drink no milk. Their findings show that diets that contain flavored milk or only plain milk are both associated with higher intakes of many important nutrients compared to diets with no milk, and that drinking milk is not associated with an adverse effect on BMI. Results from our study indicate that flavored milk can fit into a healthful diet.

The Flavored Milk Component

“Parents may be hesitant to offer flavored milk due to the higher levels of added sugars and calories,” Dr. Murphy says. “A glass of plain low-fat milk provides about 100 calories, while a glass of chocolate low-fat milk provides about 160 calories. Results from our study show that children and adolescents who drink flavored milk or exclusively plain milk have comparable or lower total intakes of added sugars as compared to people who consume no milk.”

Dr. Murphy goes on to state their study also shows that milk drinkers have much higher intakes of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin A compared to people who drink no milk.

“Limiting children’s access to flavored milk may have the negative effect of limiting their intake of many important vitamins and minerals,” Dr. Murphy says.

Milk Does a Body Good

Pediatricians have long extolled the necessity of milk in a child’s diet. Milk is a concentrated source of many nutrients that are important for optimal health and growth.

“The diets of many children and adolescents tend to be low in several of these nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, vitamins A and D, and potassium,” Dr. Murphy says. “Each serving of low-fat or nonfat milk—either plain or flavored—provides a rich source of these nutrients.”

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that children 2 to 8 years old consume two dairy servings per day, and that older children and teenagers consume three dairy servings per day. Drinking low-fat and nonfat milk, whether it’s plain or flavored, can help children meet these recommendations.

5 Tips for Adding Dairy to the Diet

No matter what you do, is your toddler still hesitant to drink milk? Here are five ways to get more dairy into your little one’s diet:

  1. If your child is hesitant about yogurt add some granola. Sometimes a little crunch is just what it takes.
  2. Children love frozen treats. Pour strawberry milk into frozen treat containers or small paper cups, add their favorite berry, and freeze.
  3. Blend chocolate milk, their favorite berry, and ice for a delicious treat.
  4. String cheese is a quick and easy on-the-go treat.
  5. Graham crackers in milk may be an old favorite, but it’s a good one!
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