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What’s better for kids: Chocolate or white milk?

Badger View: Studies show that whether you are 2 or 92, milk of any flavor is a healthy choice.

Fran O'Leary, Wisconsin Agriculturist Senior Editor

April 23, 2024

3 Min Read
girl drinking chocolate milk
HEALTHY CHOICE: According to a national nutrition survey in the U.S., flavored milk contributes only 4% of added sugars to the diets of children ages 2 to 18 years, while soft drinks and noncarbonated sweetened beverages contribute 40% of added sugars. triocean/GETTY IMAGES

Parents want what’s best for their kids, and that holds true for what they eat and drink. There are misperceptions about chocolate and other flavored dairy milks and how they stack up to unflavored milk.

Both low-fat or fat-free chocolate milk and unflavored milk are great nutritional options for kids, according to the National Dairy Council. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the American Academy of Pediatrics recognize that a small amount of added sugars, which falls within the daily calorie limit, can be used to increase the appeal of nutrient-rich foods such as milk. Besides added sugar, chocolate milk contains all the same nutrients as white milk.

According to a national nutrition survey in the U.S., flavored milk contributes only 4% of added sugars to the diets of children ages 2 to 18 years, while soft drinks and noncarbonated sweetened beverages contribute 40% of added sugars. Studies show that consumption of flavored milk is associated with higher total milk consumption and better overall diet quality without any adverse impact on weight. 

Chocolate milk and kids

This is especially important because kids really like flavored milk. A review of 53 different studies shows that flavored milk received the highest palatability rating among children, and children drink more milk when it’s flavored. Studies have also shown that the removal of flavored milk from schools can lead to a decrease in total milk consumption and an increase in milk waste. That means fewer kids may get the nutrients their bodies need to grow and develop. It’s difficult to match milk’s nutrient combination and would likely require more food groups, calories and cost.

How much should children drink? Recommendations for dairy foods are 3 cups per day. An 8-ounce glass of dairy milk counts as 1 cup. Whether a child likes flavored or unflavored milk, you can feel confident they are getting the nutritious and delicious beverage they need when they reach for their favorite milk. 

The amount of milk children need daily depends on their age. For children ages 2 through 8, 2 to 2.5 cups per day are recommended. For those ages 9 to 18, 3 cups per day are recommended.

According to the National Dairy Council, milk contains 13 essential nutrients, including high-quality protein, calcium and vitamin D. Milk’s nutrients help bodies function properly.

Milk’s high-quality protein means it contains all nine essential amino acids. And its whey protein helps us recover and build muscle after exercise, while its casein protein helps us feel full and supports weight management. Protein, zinc, selenium, and vitamins A and D help support a healthy immune system.

Milk also contains the following B vitamins, which can help convert food into fuel:

  • vitamin (B12)

  • riboflavin (B2)

  • pantothenic acid (B5)

  • niacin (B3)

Recent research indicates further gains from drinking milk, such as:

Hydration. Move over sports drinks and water — milk’s combination of water, natural electrolytes and macronutrients helps rehydrate and improves net fluid balance. A 2020 study found that milk-based drinks had higher beverage hydration index scores than water and traditional sports drinks. 

Cognitive benefits. Drinking milk may help protect the brain from the effects of aging. A 2022 study found that older adults who drank 3 cups of milk a day had higher levels of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that can promote brain health in seniors.

So, whether you are 2 or 92, and you enjoy drinking chocolate milk or regular milk, milk is a healthy choice.

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About the Author(s)

Fran O'Leary

Wisconsin Agriculturist Senior Editor, Farm Progress

Fran O’Leary lives in Brandon, Wis., and has been editor of Wisconsin Agriculturist since 2003. Even though O’Leary was born and raised on a farm in Illinois, she has spent most of her life in Wisconsin. She moved to the state when she was 18 years old and later graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

Before becoming editor of Wisconsin Agriculturist, O’Leary worked at Johnson Hill Press in Fort Atkinson as a writer and editor of farm business publications and at the Janesville Gazette in Janesville as farm editor and a feature writer. Later, she signed on as a public relations associate at Bader Rutter in Brookfield, and served as managing editor and farm editor at The Reporter, a daily newspaper in Fond du Lac.

She has been a member of American Agricultural Editors’ Association (now Agricultural Communicators Network) since 2003.

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