Chocolate Milk: Good or Bad?

Chocolate milk has been a staple in controversial drinks throughout the years. The question of whether chocolate milk is actually good for us has been brought up time and time again. The answer? Well, while there is much more research to be done, the current research shows that chocolate milk is not as bad for you as it can be made out to be. In fact, it can sometimes be the right choice for everyone alike. The current promotion of chocolate milk aims to target athletes and parents buying for their children, as can be seen on websites such as http://gotchocolatemilk.com and http://www.trumoo.com respectively. Chocolate milk is promoted as the perfect recovery drink for athletes, and is promoted as a nutritious drink choice to parents. Despite its rather negative perceptions at times and barring any dietary restrictions, chocolate milk, for the right reasons and in the right serving size, is not really bad for anyone.

It is no surprise that chocolate milk has been a long-standing topic of controversy when it comes to the topic of children’s health. Chocolate milk is in fact regular white milk with a decent amount of sugar and some fat added for flavor. TruMoo, a popular brand of chocolate milk in New England and owned by Garelick Farms, tries very hard on their website to break away from any negative connotations that could come along with their product. They try to reinsure parents that TruMoo is in fact a nutritious choice for their children, containing essential nutrients like potassium, calcium, Vitamin A and Vitamin D, and helping to build stronger bodies while not being over sugary or containing any high fructose corn syrup. While regular milk is most definitely the better thing to drink, it is often hard to get kids to drink white milk and the chocolate flavoring is needed to ensure that they are getting the everyday nutrients that they need. The evidence readily provided in a range of studies backs up their claims. The USDA supports the claim on the TruMoo website that milk is full of necessary nutrients. They have a similar comparison for all of the nutrients found in one glass of milk with a picture that can be found in a hand out for parents on the importance of flavored milk.

Picture 1

This graphic compares the nutrients in milk, or chocolate milk, to other foods that are considered very healthy. (Why Flavored Milk Is Important for Student Nutrition, 2011 The argument that they are trying to get across is not only that milk is nutritious, but also that milk can be a healthy choice for some nutrients that kids might not otherwise get. While those other healthy foods most likely have more nutrients than what is mentioned that are important to get, they are not commonly known for being the most appealing to a child’s sight, taste, or smell. TruMoo also claims that they really don’t have that much sugar in comparison to other drinks, and that the sugar that comes with chocolate milk is on 3% of the added sugar in a typical children’s diet. First off, TruMoo states that they do not use any high fructose corn syrup, which is a type of added sugar that has been negatively viewed in recent years. They also claim to be the lesser of the sugar in different versions of chocolate milk.

Picture 2

While these numbers might seem a little high at first sight, just keep in mind that the natural sugar lactose accounts for around 12g of that, and a can of soda has around 33g of all added sugar. Even with what seems like a high amount of sugar, the claim is made that chocolate milk only makes up about 3% of added sugar in a child’s diet. This is supported by the 2007-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHNES), which are used to create the government recommended food pyramid.

Picture 3

The chart created based on the results gathered about the sources of added sugar in diets of children showed that 4.3% of added sugars were due to chocolate milk and about 36.8%. Also included in the 2007-2010 surveys were the results about the added sugar in diets of adults. Those results concluded that chocolate milk contributed to 0.6% of added sugars, which was even too small of a number to show up on the charts. This suggests that not only does chocolate milk play a pretty insignificant role in added sugar diets, but also that there are other places for added sugar to be a concern and to be cut down on. On both charts, soft drinks, fruit juices, and sweet bakery products made up over half of the chart, which were not accounting for the natural sugars already in the foods or drinks. (NHNES, 2007-2010)

TruMoo has also made commercials to promote their chocolate milk. One of their recent commercials entitled “Movie Night”, promotes chocolate milk as a nutritious family option despite being chocolate.

This commercial highlights one of the main issues of chocolate throughout its most recent history. Chocolate has been viewed as unhealthy for a while due to its ingredients. Chocolate combines two of the three ingredients that are considered to be bad. Sugar and fat have long been under scrutiny for the dangers of obesity and diabetes that they are linked to. A graph from Mother Jones compares the added sugar increase to the increase in diabetes and obesity. In 1980, the average person in the United States consumed 120 lbs. of sugar, while 2.5% of Americans had diabetes, 5.5% of children were obese, and 15% of adults were obese. In 2010, the average American consumed 132 lbs. of sugar, while 6.8% of Americans had diabetes, 16.9% of children were obese, and 35.7% of adults were obese. (Lecture, April 13, 2015) The sugar companies have long been fighting these results and taking every measure possible to keep numbers like those from reaching the public. For example, Food Politics, by Marion Nestle, states that in 2003 the World Health Organization published a report that recommended the intake of free or added sugars to 10% or less of the daily calorie intake. While it really wasn’t that different to the USDA’s Pyramid of foods that recommended 7-13% of calories, many sugar industry groups strongly objected and pressured their senators into lobbying for cut funding to the organization. Their tactics worked because the 2004 Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity, and Health failed to mention any of the background or report on the 10% recommendation (Lecture, April 13, 2015). Similarly to sugar, fat has also received much attention due to high rates, actually the number one reason, of death in the United States due to heart disease. In 1977, a new dietary guideline suggested against the consumption of saturated fats. Because of the new alternative, Trans-fat emerged to take the place of saturated fats. Eventually in the 2000s, Trans-fat has since been characterized as actually being worse than saturated fat. The major difference between these two “bad” foods is that there is not an industry for producing fat like there is for added sugar, so the push back to these studies and discoveries about fat has not been as present and the information has been much more likely to reach the public eye. (Lecture, April 13, 2015)

Got Chocolate Milk? aims to promote chocolate milk as the ideal recovery drink for athletes. Got Chocolate Milk? is a partner of Got Milk?, and a registered trademark of the California Milk Processor Board. The Got Milk? campaign was started in 1993 to encourage milk as a daily necessity in a balanced diet. It has since featured countless superstars and athletes alike to advertise in schools, on the radio, and on TV. Got Chocolate Milk? was created to promote the flavored version of milk. Got Chocolate Milk? has shifted away from the popular promotion to parents as a healthy alternative to ensure that essential nutrients found in milk are still making their way into diets. The campaign focuses on promoting chocolate milk to athletes as the best aid to recovery. The website, http://gotchocolatemilk.com, makes the claims that chocolate milk has all the necessary nutrients in the right ratios to optimize recovery and performance. They supply evidence from the science and enlist superstar athletes such as NBA star Kevin Love, NFL star Hines Ward, and US Olympic superstar Apolo Ohno to promote the high achievements with the help of chocolate milk.

In the commercial, Ohno plays at an athletes mindset by using the words from a parent, the inspiration and motivation for many athletes, to push on through a tough workout with and chocolate milk to help build things that don’t just come naturally, like the power to keep pushing. The end slogan of, “Nutrients to refuel, protein to rebuild, backed by science” is something that they strive to prove in the research that is presented online. The Karp et al., 2006 study, “Chocolate Milk as a Post-Exercise Recovery Aid” reassures the information of Got Chocolate Milk? with the science that endurance exercise decreases muscle glycogen that is stored in skeletal muscles. The resynthesis of the glycogen between training sessions is also maximized if carbohydrates are ingested within 30 minutes to an hour after exercise. Protein also helps to rebuild these muscles by speeding along the process when in conjunction with carbohydrates. The study goes on the explain that the study of Ivy et al., 2003 found that the consumption of a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio is optimal to the recovery process. Chocolate milk has that ratio. (Karp et al., 2006) The 2013 study of Watson et al. supports the ideas of chocolate milk as a sufficient recovery aid in the chapter, Cocoa for Recovery. They conclude that because muscle glycogen is the main fuel during intense exercise, replenishing that glycogen is essential to post exercise recovery. Low-fat chocolate milk is an effective and lower-cost recovery aid, with an optimal carbohydrate-to-protein ratio. Chocolate milk is composed of cocoa plus monosaccharides (glucose and fructose) and disaccharides (lactose), while most commercially available recovery beverages consist of monosaccharides (glucose and fructose) and complex carbohydrates (maltodextrin). Low- fat chocolate milk has the 4-to-1 carbohydrate: protein ratio many commercial recovery beverages try to attain. In comparison to many carbohydrate-electrolyte beverages, chocolate milk packs substantially more carbohydrates per 240 mL. It also provides fluids and sodium, which needs to be replaced due to sweat loss during a workout. Chocolate milk is also high in calcium necessary for building and maintaining strong bones and a major constituent involved in muscular contraction. (Watson et al., 2013)

These studies support the information that Got Chocolate Milk? uses to appeal to athletes. Most every college sports program in the United States has chocolate milk readily available to their athletes. Universities alike preach the significance of recovery through chocolate milk and supply their athletes with an abundance of it for post workout, practice and competition consumption, while other universities go above and beyond to explore the benefits of chocolate milk. At Cornell, an Ivy League school well known for its agricultural program as well, the athletics program, while having chocolate milk straight from its own dairy plant, is continuing to work in close partnership with the dairy program to work on optimizing the chocolate milk that their athletes were drinking even more. With the goal of finding the perfect balance of ingredients such a sugar and fat to complement each athlete’s digestive system under the NCAA specification of supplement products, Big Red Refuel has been in the works and is close to its release. To emphasize its importance, Cornell’s coordinator of sports nutrition, Clint Wattenberg, is quoted in the New York Times article saying, “The insight and awareness around recovery and nutrition has adapted and really become part of the training plan.” “Fueling recovery is as important as the work you put in. This is part of our tool kit we can use to optimize our performance.” (Berkman, NYT, 2015)

While most of this information and these studies come from very reliable sources, it is important to also look at who is funding all of this research. For example, the Got Milk? and Got Chocolate Milk? campaigns are registered trademarks of the California Milk Processors Board. Also, the USDA flyer that promotes flavored milk is funded by Got Milk? and MilkPEP (Milk Processors Education Program), and the information about the NHNES was put out by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. This means that while the information could be 100% true, there is a question of whether or not any information that shines a negative light on milk or chocolate milk would ever be available to the public because their sales and profit are at stake if there were evidence against it. While I 100% believe that professional and Olympic athletes used chocolate milk for recovery, they are also being paid to represent chocolate milk and make commercials that make it seem that they owe it all to chocolate milk. This is all just something to keep in mind when looking at websites and information supporting certain claims. Who is paying for it could always have more of an impact on the information being released than you would think.

That being said, chocolate milk has still proven to be a beneficial drink. While regular milk is the much smarter choice, when it is not a preferred taste, chocolate milk is the easiest way to ensure that essential nutrients that are needed daily are making into a persons diet. From children all the way to grandparents and beyond, chocolate milk is a safe alternative and has been proven to be an insignificant amount of added sugars in anyone’s diet when consumed in the right portions. The added sugar scares of obesity and diseases has much more to do with soft drinks, sugary foods, and candies that are being consumed at high amounts than it does with the added sugar to flavor something that is otherwise very beneficial to your body. Chocolate milk has also proven to be the best and most reliable recovery drink for athletes. It naturally has the ideal carbohydrate to protein ratio and is trusted by athletes of all levels to ensure that their muscles are ready to go. There can always be more studies and research done. Most of the studies call for more investigation into the kind of chocolate that is being put into the milk and also find out more about the effects of the fats as well. And just like at Cornell, there can always be improvements made to the formulas, and techniques used. Chocolate milk is serving its purpose to the best of its ability, and while there is always room for improvement, I would not hesitate to recommend it as a healthy substitution to regular milk for more flavor or the best recovery drink currently available to athletes.

Bibliography

“Apolo Ohno BUILT WITH CHOCOLATE MILK.” YouTube. 5 Aug. 2014. Web. 5 May 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfhF1DBqHKw&gt;.

Berkman, Seth. “Cornell’s Chocolate Milk Fills Refueling Gap.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 18 Apr. 2015. Web. 4 May 2015. <http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/19/sports/cornells-chocolate-milk-fills-refueling-gap.html?_r=0&gt;.”Home.” Got Chocolate Milk. California Milk Processors Board. Web. 4 May 2015. <http://gotchocolatemilk.com&gt;.

Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. Web. 4 May 2015. <http://www.usdairy.com/~/media/usd/public/nhanes 20072010 sources of added sugar.pptx>.

Karp JR, Johnston JD, Tecklenburg S, Mickleborough TD, Fly AD, Stager JM. Chocolate milk as a post-exercise recovery aid. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 2006;16:78-91. Web. 4 May 2015.

Martin, Carla. “Health, Nutrition, and the Politics of Food.” Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 13 Apr. 2015. Lecture.

Pritchett, Kelly and Bishop, Phillip A. “Cocoa for Recovery”. R.R. Watson et al., (eds.), Chocolate in Health and Nutrition, Nutrition aand Health 7, DOI 10.1007/978-1-61779-803-0_33

TruMoo. TruMoo Milk. Web. 4 May 2015. <http://www.trumoo.com&gt;.

“TV Commercial – TruMoo Chocolate Flavor – Family Movie Night – A Truly Good Thing.” YouTube. TruMoo Milk, 9 Jan. 2015. Web. 4 May 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYnLm1Iot7s&gt;.

“Why Flavored Milk Is Important for Student Nutrition.” America’s Milk Processors. Web. 4 May 2015. <http://www.nationaldairycouncil.org/SiteCollectionDocuments/education_materials/flavored_milk/Why Flavored Milk is Important for Student Nutrition.pdf>.

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