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The Controversy Over Chocolate Milk

Ever disguise your child’s milk by adding some chocolate in favor of getting down some calcium? The AAP says that’s fine but a Breezy Mama favorite Go-to pediatrician Dr. Gillin disagrees. Find out why, plus how much milk should your child be getting and why, whether organic milk is better than regular, whether all this mean you’ll have to (GULP!) give up hot chocolate and more.

From Dr. Gillin:

Chocolate milk has been a bit controversial lately. Jamie Oliver brought it to our country’s attention in his hit series Food Revolution. He demonstrated how much sugar was added by offering chocolate milk at schools, and commented on how it doesn’t really make sense to add sugar to foods to make kids eat them. The Los Angeles School districts evaluated whether to continue chocolate milk in their school district. Other local San Diego school districts have also considered banning chocolate milk from schools.

The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) still recommends chocolate milk- on the basis of recognizing the need for milk.

Here is my opinion on your questions:

When moms add chocolate to milk to get their kids to drink it, is it worth the extra sugar?

No, I do not think it is. Although it is very important to get the calcium for our kid’s growing bones, there are other ways to get it. First of all, if you offer young children regular milk (whole fat, low fat, or nonfat) they will eventually drink it. Many children go through phases, but eventually they eat and drink what is offered to them. Other options are yogurt (again not the sugared up kind) and cheese.

Chocolate milk has 3x the sugar as lowfat milk!!! That’s 30 grams instead of 10! Now, if you take a child who drinks 2-3 cups of chocolate per day, that’s 40-60 extra grams of sugar per day!! No wonder we are having an obesity crisis.

Does this same answer apply to, sigh, hot chocolate, one of my favorite things to do with the kids?

So- here is my main difference. I think it is OK to have sweets once in a while. So the occasional (key word- occasional) hot chocolate is fine. On a cold rainy day or after a day of skiing, enjoy hot chocolate. But not daily, or even weekly! Sweets (and other junk food by the way) should be limited, that doesn’t mean never, but it also does not mean everyday.

And this is why young children should not be offered chocolate milk. Kids drink milk everyday, several times per day. Milk is not occasional. Once they start drinking chocolate milk, even occasionally, they will feel comfortable drinking it everyday. And the schools offer it! That means your 5 year old child could make the choice to drink it everyday. Since milk is not an occasional thing, parents should stay away from chocolate milk when their kids are young.

Here is the thing: no parent, or school would offer kids cookies everyday, right? But they offer children chocolate milk everyday!

How important is it that kids drink milk in general?

Milk is important, for the calcium amongst other nutrients. The calcium is the vital part of your child’s growing bones. They need it to grow. Again, I think that if you and your family drink regular milk from the start, your child will learn to drink regular milk. Milk also contains Vitamin D, other dairy items may not. If your child does not have any milk or dairy, then they can have a multivitamin. I think real foods are better sources of vitamins, but it is an option.

How many ounces a day do you recommend kids under 2 have? Ages 5 and under have?

Usually about 2-3 servings of milk, or dairy per day.

Calcium recommendations are as follow:
Age 1-3 500mg
Age 4-8 800 mg
Age 9-18 1300 mg plus
All ages should have 400 IU of Vitamin D

8 ounces of milk has about 300 mg of calcium. So the total ounces depends on how old your child is.

Can’t too much milk lead to iron deficiency anemia?

That is exactly right!! So I ask patients to keep their milk intake to less than 24 ounces per day.

Is it still best to offer milk after a meal so kids don’t get too full to get in other nutrients?

I do not think it is too big of a deal- I say offer it at the meal, and they will drink it.

Along the same lines as chocolate milk, are sugary cereals diluting the benefits of having milk in the cereal?

Well, the milk is still good for you, but sugar cereals really are full of, well, sugar. I would avoid sugar cereals. Luckily, there are so many healthy options nowadays- I make oatmeal for my son- I think that is a better option.

Any suggestions on how to disguise milk for kids who have trouble getting it down?

Sure- make the oatmeal with it (for kids who eat oatmeal), stick some healthier cereal in it, make a shake with it (with real fruits, not sugar).

Try easy things like a cool crazy straw. And do not forget- we are their role models. If we drink milk, they will too. They may go through phases, but eventually they learn what we teach them. That is why I think the schools should not offer chocolate milk- they are our kids’ role models as well.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Yes- I do think organic milk is a good thing. I am not so sure how much I understand “organic chips or crackers” but I think organic milk is better if available.

Kids under 2 years of age (some say 1 year) should have full fat milk, then can drop to lowfat after that.

For kids with milk allergies, soy and almond milk are options (again, watch the sugar).

And beware of other flavored milks- strawberry, vanilla- they can have a lot of sugar as well.

Also, I understand that my opinions are different than the AAP and other organizations that are recommending continuing chocolate milk. But, first of all- I think that there is an obvious problem with obesity, and we need to make changes. I see obesity in all populations, and way too often. It catches up to the kids! Second, I believe that kids will do what we show them- I would like to give kids credit that they can drink regular milk.

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About Dr. Gillin:

Shakha Gillin, M.D., F.A.A.P. attended UCSD for her undergraduate education and medical school (and if she looks familiar that’s because she’s the twin sister of Breezy go-to dermatoligist Dr. Vi). She practiced pediatrics in La Jolla for 5 years before joining El Camino Pediatrics. She has also worked in private practice in Newport Beach and in the Rady Children’s Hospital Emergency Department. Dr. Shakha Gillin has a special interest in preventative care, particularly healthy and active lifestyles for children. She was recognized by San Diego Magazine as a “Top Doctor” in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. She also organizes the North County Pediatric Journal Club, an every other month meeting where local pediatricians discuss the latest pediatric medical topics.

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  1. Wow! This is a great article. I never knew that chocolate milk had so much sugar. This makes me rethink my choices and my childrens’ choices when we eat lunch. Thank you for making us aware!

  2. When my daughter is going through an “I won’t drink regular white milk”, I ask her what color of milk she wants. Sometimes she tries for chocolate (and if she hasn’t been gorging on sweets, I’ll add a small amount of chocolate powder, not a lot), but lots of times she’ll ask for pink, purple, blue, green … one or two drops of liquid food color and she usually drinks it up like a champ, and then asks for more!

  3. Thank you Maya! And Susan, that is such a cute idea – I love it!

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