Flavored Milks: How Low Can You Go?

Flavored milks are highly sweetened beverages made with powdered skim milk—they are actually the dairy industry’s way of getting rid of all the skim milk left over from the production of butter and cream, mostly for ice cream. Since Americans are huge ice cream eaters (and since Americans are eating more butter these days), there’s an enormous amount of this waste product that the industry needs to get rid of.

Flavored MilksWith the advent of modern industrial agriculture, which separates all the farm animal species into confinement facilities, it’s no longer possible for the farmer to feed his leftover skim milk to his pigs after sending his cream to the dairy factory.  So what better thing to do with this lowfat waste product than feed it to children!

Because of USDA dietary guidelines, school children are not allowed to have whole milk at lunchtime—the kind of milk they need to grow normally.  Instead their choices are limited to lowfat and flavored milk beverages in chocolate and strawberry flavors.  These beverages contain more sugar than sodas!  School students choose chocolate milk over plain milk two to one, and there are reports of children in the breakfast programs putting chocolate milk on their cereal!

Thanks to the efforts of Jamie Oliver, host of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, plus input from thousands of concerned parents, many schools dropped the flavored milk offering.  Because the kids hate the watery plain lowfat milk, they ended up not drinking milk, and the dairy industry was not pleased, especially as some policymakers began calling for the introduction of full fat milk at school lunches.

What? Give valuable butterfat to growing children?  That would be terrible for the bottom line. So the industry increased their lobbying efforts for flavored milks. I receive the American Dairy Association North East Dairy Promotion News, and this issue featured an article entitled “Checkoff Reinforces Importance of Offering Flavored Milk in Schools.” According to the article, “In response to recent changes in nutritional guidelines allowing schools greater flexibility in meeting nutrition requirements, ADA North East distributed informational kits to 1,600 school districts about the importance of offering low-fat flavored milk to students.”  The promotional kits included a flyer with “five reasons flavored milk is nutritious and appealing to schools and students alike,” and a mouse pad featuring chocolate, strawberry and white milk logos. The campaign seems to be working. “Many schools have already reintroduced flavored milk thanks to support from local dairy farmers and cooperatives.”

A few years ago, when researching the subject of flavored milk for a presentation on school lunches, I was astounded to find three web pages dedicated to hawking flavored milk.  Typical arguments go like this:  “Flavored milk is a terrific way for kids, teens and adults to enjoy milk and get the same nine essential nutrients found in milk — nutrients that can help kids grow into strong and healthy adults.

“Milk, including flavored, is the number-one food source of three of the four nutrients the Dietary Guidelines for Americans say both adults and children need to consume more of — vitamin D, calcium and potassium. Research shows that children who drink flavored milk drink more milk overall, have better quality diets, do not consume more added sugar or fat and are just as likely to be at a healthy weight compared to kids who do not consume flavored milk. In fact, flavored milk contributes only 4% of the added sugars to children’s diets ages 2-18, while soft drinks and non-carbonated sweetened beverages contribute about 46% of the added sugars.”

Here’s a typical graphic for chocolate milk:

Chocolate Milk Ad

So why isn’t flavored milk a good way to get the “three out of four” important nutrients in milk.  Since the milk has been heated—once for pasteurization and again for the powdering process—any enzymes that help the body absorb calcium and phosphorus will be destroyed.  You need vitamin D to utilize calcium and phosphorus but it is unlikely the vitamin D will be absorbed since it is a fat-soluble vitamin, and there is little or no fat in the flavored milks.

These flavored milks typically also contain corn starch, carrageenan (hard to digest), natural and artificial flavors and vitamin A palmitate. Strawberry-flavored milk labels list high fructose corn syrup along with sugar, plus natural flavoring and red dye—but no strawberries!

Back to the newsletter from the American Dairy Association North East: on the back page is a photo of Abbey Copenhaver, New York dairy farmer and registered dietitian.  She is participating in the Ironman race sponsored by Team Chocolate Milk, and shown drinking a bottle of lowfat chocolate milk. She did the marathon, which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run, in fourteen hours four minutes. (Winners typically complete the course in just over nine hours.)

Abbey looks nice and slim, as she should, engaging in so much exercise. But on the opposite page we have two group photos of the State Dairy Princesses—the outgoing winners and the incoming winners. Recently at a dairy conference I attended, a dairy farmer who was promoting whole milk for school children pointed out that all six of these teenage gals are. . . overweight, some quite a bit so.

The dirty little secret of these flavored milks is that they provide the perfect combination of ingredients for weight gain—in spite of industry claims to the contrary.  First is the low-fat powdered milk.  If you feed low-fat milk to pigs—who have a metabolism similar to that of humans–they will rapidly gain weight, but they will stay lean if fed whole milk. It seems counter-intuitive to many, but readers of this blog know that we need those animal fats to stay slim.  They provide energy, support thyroid function, help with detoxification (so those toxins won’t need body fat to lodge in) and contribute to satiety.

Then we have the sugar, or combination of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. The added sweeteners in one serving of flavored milk add up to twenty-five to thirty grams—thirty grams is two tablespoons.  If this added sugar contributes only 4 percent of sugar intake in children ages two to eighteen, then these kids are eating a heck of a lot of sugar. . . maybe because flavored milk leaves them so unsatisfied.

There’s a third ingredient in flavored milk that can cause weight gain. . . can you guess what it is?  The answer is free glutamic acid (basically MSG) formed during the milk powdering process, and also lurking in the artificial and “natural” flavors. Researchers use MSG to induce obesity in test animals. And a study at the University of North Carolina found that “people who eat more MSG are more likely to be overweight or obese”, no matter how many calories they consumed overall. Here’s a good explanation of how MSG disrupts the human metabolism to cause weight gain.

The fact that spokespersons can promote these food-like products is an indictment of the whole dairy industry. They are absolutely not appropriate for anyone, especially growing children. What kind of society believes that it is a good idea to feed such garbage to children, and what will become of it in future generations?

The Weston A. Price Foundation promotes healthy, stable, nutrient-dense animal fats as the key to weight control and optimal health.  Your membership supports the work we do.

Author: Sally Fallon Morell

Sally Fallon Morell is best known as the author of Nourishing Traditions®: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. This well-researched, thought-provoking guide to traditional foods contains a startling message: animal fats and cholesterol are not villains but vital factors in the diet, necessary for normal growth, proper function of the brain and nervous system, protection from disease and optimum energy levels.

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