Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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In the chocolate milk war which side will you take?

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A school in Ottawa decided to no-longer offer chocolate milk to students as part of their milk program. This, I should add, was based on a vote taken at a parent council meeting. Predictably, a bunch of parents, students, and assorted individuals from all over the province are outraged at this infringement on their freedom. This despite the fact that chocolate milk has not been banned from the school, the school is simply no-longer selling it to the kids.

I’m listening to the radio call-in program about this outrage and quite frankly I feel like throwing up my hands, saying eat and drink what ever you damn want, and going off to farm alpacas or something similar that will simultaneously allow me to forsake my current profession and keep contact with human beings at a bare minimum. I mean honestly, what is wrong with people. It is that vital that your child have chocolate milk at school once a week that you’re launching a protest over the removal of chocolate milk from the school milk program but you can’t be assed to pick up a carton of chocolate milk at the store to send to school in your child’s lunch? Do you not normally buy groceries? How do you feed your child outside of school if it’s too much of an ordeal to dump a cup of chocolate milk in a container and pop it in your kid’s lunch box? Lest you think I’m exaggerating, just listen to the first guest on the show. This is literally her argument. If you want your child to have chocolate milk so badly, give it to them yourself. You can let your kid guzzle chocolate milk at home until the cows come home.

Then, there are people arguing that kids should get chocolate milk as part of the school milk program because this may be the only little bit of nutrition they get. That may well be true (and this is incredibly sad) but may I be so bold as to point out that white milk is still available through the program? As my friend Yoni has often argued, suggesting that children be given chocolate milk for the nutrition in milk is like arguing that they be given apple pie for the nutrition in fruit.

I think that many of the people arguing for keeping chocolate milk on-offer in schools have fallen for the marketing hype and genuinely think that chocolate milk is a “health” food. There was one dad who called in and said that his kids drink chocolate milk every day and nothing else sweet, except juice. But he was all for pop being banned in schools because kids get too much sugar. Well, one cup of orange juice has 22 grams of sugar, the same amount of pop has 26 grams, and chocolate milk has 24 grams. That’s not a huge difference. If sugar is your concern, then chocolate milk and pop are on par with each other.

Removing chocolate milk from a school milk program is not denying parents the right to give their children chocolate milk. It’s removing one source in a landscape that is saturated in chocolate milk, pop, juice, sports drinks, and energy drinks. Should any and all foods be available for purchase in schools? Schools do not have an obligation to act as grocery stores. They do not have to sell any and all products that a child might desire. Making white milk the only option (for sale) in schools helps to make the healthy choice the default for students.

There is no good reason for schools to be offering children chocolate milk as part of their milk programs. I applaud this school for taking the initiative to remove the option of chocolate milk from their program. Schools should be places where children learn and that includes learning healthy behaviours, including making healthy food choices. Schools should not be profiting from selling children foods that should not be a regular part of their diets. It’s disgraceful that some parents think that daily delivery of chocolate milk is a greater priority than the actual health and well-being of their children. So much so that they are willing to publicly fight against a decision that was made with the children’s best interest at heart. If they have this much time and passion about school nutrition maybe they can take some of that energy and put it into fighting for a national school lunch program. You know, something that would actually benefit children. Sorry if I sound a little harsh but it frustrates me to no-end that people are so self-centred that they are unwilling to put the well-being of children, both their own, and others ahead of their own uninformed opinions. Cry me a freaking river (of chocolate milk).


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Is skim milk healthier than whole milk?

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Last week Fooducate published a blog post answering (?) the question: Which is healthier for me: Skim or whole milk? Their response boiled down to “it depends”, can you afford the extra calories in whole milk or not? Which is certainly a part of the answer, but definitely not the whole (pardon the pun, you know I can’t resist) answer. So, what is the answer? Sadly, I don’t have the answer either, but I can give you a little bit more information than Fooducate did so that you can decide for yourself.

Fooducate mentions that lower fat milk options often have more sugar. This is not the case. Skim milk and whole milk both contain roughly 12 grams of sugar per cup (1, 2). When you get into chocolate milk and all of those bizarrely flavoured milks like Crispy Crunch or banana, yes, those will have more sugar than plain old white milk. This is the case regardless of fat content; it just so happens that most commercially available flavoured milks are low fat or skim. It can safely be said that white milk is better for you than chocolate. I’m not saying that you can’t ever have chocolate milk, it shouldn’t be considered a healthy dietary staple though. Treat chocolate milk like a liquid chocolate bar.

Fooducate focussed on macronutrients: fat, protein, and carbohydrate. What they fail to look at is micronutrients. When comparing fortified skim and whole milk they are very similar on the vitamin and mineral front. The difference lies in the bioavailability of these nutrients. Fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) need fat for your body to absorb them. If you’re having a glass of milk with a meal that contains another source of fat, awesome, you’ll get those vitamins. However, if you’re eating a bowl of SpecialK for breakfast topped with skim milk then you’re not going to be getting as many nutrients out of that milk (or that fortified cereal) as you would if you used whole or 2% milk. Just because the nutrients are on the label doesn’t mean your body’s able to utilize them.

I’m not saying that everyone should go whole hog and drink milk. Heck, you don’t even need milk to have a healthy diet. The type of milk you should consume really depends on your personal preference, what else you’re consuming milk with, your overall diet, and your personal goals.


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Chocolate milk, juice, and marketing untruths

 

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After I wrote about how sugar’s not inherently evil on Monday, I’d now like to take exception (again) to the marketing of chocolate milk as a healthy beverage choice.

As I’ve mentioned before, just because there’s nothing wrong with having some sugar in our diets, that doesn’t mean we can’t have too much. Just because sugar’s not bad for you doesn’t mean it’s good either and it certainly doesn’t mean that most of us couldn’t stand to cut back on it a bit.

So… My best friend sent me the above photo (taken from a Dairy Farmers of Canada booklet) last week. It’s a great example of the food industry twisting the facts. Sure, a glass of chocolate milk has the same amount of sugar as a glass of apple juice. That doesn’t lead to the conclusion that chocolate milk is a nutritious choice. Both beverages have 24 grams of sugar per cup. That’s 6 teaspoons of sugar! That’s a lot of sugar in something that’s not going to fill you up. The conclusion should really be that neither chocolate milk nor apple juice is a healthy choice. Both are liquid candy, with a few added nutrients, and should be treated as treats.

I also would like to add my annoyance at the chocolate milk sponsored half marathon I ran on Sunday. The only beverages I could find at the end of the race were chocolate milk, juice, and coffee. Now, if anyone deserves chocolate milk, it’s probably someone who just finished a long run. However, sweetness doesn’t appeal to me after a race and all I wanted was a drink of water. I ended up settling for a cup of black coffee until I got home. As we were exiting the finish area, someone on the sound system was extolling the benefits of chocolate milk as the ultimate post-race rehydrator. Actually, no. If you missed it before, here are my thoughts on that. I get that the race needs sponsors, and I don’t mind there being chocolate milk available. However, I don’t think that it should necessitate the exclusion of water.


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Don’t cry over chocolate milk

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I know that I just recently blogged about flavoured milk in schools but I can’t resist commenting on this Masters Thesis on Flavored Milk Consumption in School Systems and its Effect on the BodyThis topic really gets under my skin and it especially annoyed me to see a dietetic maters thesis supporting the dairy industry and their propaganda.

The thesis looked at milk consumption of students in one school who were obligated to have a carton of milk on their trays at lunchtime. On the first day students were offered both white and flavoured (chocolate and strawberry) milks, as was presumably the norm. On the second day they were offered only white milk. The third day was the same as the first. Milk consumption was measured by weighing the milk remaining in the cartons at the end of each meal. It was found that milk consumption was about 9% less on the second day than it was on the first. Thus, it was argued that students were missing out on consuming calcium, and other essential nutrients, as a result of only being offered white milk.

Firstly, we have no idea what the students were consuming throughout the rest of the day. All we have is milk consumption at lunchtime over three days. There is no way we can conclude from this information that students were consuming inadequate calcium when they were only offered white milk. We also can not conclude that they were consuming sufficient calcium when they were offered both flavoured and white milk.

Secondly, of course children are going to choose chocolate milk over white milk when it’s offered. Chocolate milk is far tastier than white milk.

Thirdly, a 9% decrease in milk consumption isn’t really that much. When you think about it, this was after one day. What might happen if children were only offered white milk over a longer period of time? Perhaps their consumption of white milk would increase.

Why is it always argued that children need to have flavoured milk for them to drink it? Should we be sweetening everything to make it more palatable to them? If we never offered them chocolate milk in the first place we wouldn’t have this problem.

 

The paper indicates that many people believe that chocolate milk is contributing to the obesity epidemic and this is why we must stop serving it in schools. Chocolate milk is not single-handedly making children obese. I think the problem is more that we are constantly feeding children products that are filled with added sweeteners, sodium, and flavouring to get them to eat them. This is setting them up for a lifetime of dependence on the food industry trifecta of sugar, salt, and fat. We need to break the cycle. We need to be grown-ups and start deciding what our children eat and drink rather than letting the food industry make that decision for us.


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Is chocolate milk essential to good nutrition?

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This article: Impact of milk consumption and nutrient intakes from eliminating flavored milk in elementary schools really got under my skin. According to the study of 49 elementary schools, milk sales dropped by 26% and there was an 11.4% increase in discarded milk, suggesting a 37.4% decrease in milk consumption at school when flavoured milks were no longer available. The researchers then calculated replacement of the lost nutrients and determined that 3-4 more foods would need to be consumed (increasing calorie and fat consumption) in order to replace the nutrients lost from the decrease in milk consumption. This would also result in an increase cost of $4, 600 per 100 students per school year.

Interestingly, a little Internet searching revealed that these “findings” were nothing new. In fact, pretty much identical findings were released back in 2009 in research funded by MilkPEP (Milk Processors Education Program). There was actually quite the proliferation of propaganda produced as “educational” tools for teachers, school principals, and health care professionals. Here are just a few links: The National Dairy Council, Milk Delivers, Healthy Eating (Milk Delivers alias apparently). All of these materials suggest that keeping flavoured milks in schools is essential to the health of the students. Are you kidding me??!

First of all, why the heck should we be letting young children “choose” chocolate and strawberry milk? They are children they do not have the decision-making ability to determine that chocolate milk is not a healthy choice. As adults we have a responsibility to provide children with the best nutrition possible. Lost profits for the milk industry should not be a factor in determining what type(s) of milk are made available to students. Nor should the threat of increased costs for school cafeterias. Let them have good old-fashioned white milk or an unsweetened fortified milk alternative. Secondly, school is not the only place that these children are eating. Alleged lost nutrients from the decrease in milk consumption at school don’t necessarily have to be compensated for at school. Children should be eating breakfast and supper, as well as another snack or two, outside of school hours. Sufficient nutrients should easily be obtained throughout the day. Lastly, there are plenty of foods other than milk that provide children (and adults) with the nutrients present in milk. Milk is not the be all and end all for protein, calcium, and vitamin D that the dairy industry would have you believe. There are other dairy products such as yoghurt and kefir which can provide superior nutrition to milk. There are also many other foods that contain protein (e.g. fish, poultry, eggs, beans, tofu, etc.) and many other foods that contain calcium (e.g. canned salmon with the bone-in, yoghurt, almonds, figs, cherries, some tofu, fortified milk alternatives, etc.). As for vitamin D, it’s not naturally occurring in many foods (it’s added to milk) and even with milk consumption it can be difficult to meet the recommended intake. It’s present in fatty fish, egg yolks, fortified milk and milk alternatives, and other fortified foods such as cereals and yoghurt.

Eliminating flavoured milks from schools is not going to cause children to become malnourished. We shouldn’t pander to the industry and allow them to convince us that children will only drink their milk if it’s full of added sugar (really, is their product so bad that it’s unpalatable without added sugar and flavour?). Nor should we believe that milk is an essential food for adequate nutrition. Don’t fall for propaganda masquerading as research.