Chocolate Milk: A Little Flavor & a Whole Lot of Nutrients; sugar in milk; flavored milk

Chocolate Milk

chocolate milk pouring into a glass

All milk, including flavored milk, contains a unique combination of nutrients important for growth and development in kids, and for optimal health and disease prevention in adults.

Milk is the number one food source of three of the four nutrients of concern identified in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans: calcium, vitamin D and potassium; so the Guidelines recommend that everyone 9 years and older have three servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy foods every day (2-1/2 servings for children 2 to 8 years).1

Flavored milk has all of the major nutrients found in unflavored milk—calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, protein, riboflavin, niacin and vitamins A, B12 and D—and contributes only 3% of added sugars in the diets of children 2 - 18 years.2 In addition, children who drink milk--either flavored or white--have better nutrient intakes and similar body weights as non-milk drinkers.3

For a complete listing of the nutritional values for milk, check our nutrients in milk page.

Reading a Milk Food Label

Chocolate Milk Nutrition label showing lactose and added sugarWith the childhood obesity crisis top of mind for many, flavored milk has come under fire for its sugar content. Some have examined the flavored milk food label and misinterpret what they read, making the claim that flavored milk has as much sugar as soda. Here is what you need to know to correctly read a milk food label:

  • All milk (flavored and unflavored) has the sugar lactose in it. In an eight-ounce glass of milk you will find 12 grams of lactose.
  • Chocolate milk has between 8 and 12 additional grams of sugar added.4 So, about one-half of the sugar in chocolate milk is naturally-occurring lactose found in all milk.
  • Only about 60 calories in chocolate milk are from added sugars, which is small relative to the powerhouse of nutrients it provides.

Note: This food label is from Driftwood Dairy. While the naturally occurring lactose will be consistent, the amount of added sugar varies between brands.

What Experts Are Saying

The American Academy of Pediatrics, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, School Nutrition Association and American Heart Association all consider flavored milk a healthy option for children.

Dayle Hayes, MS, RD

Flavored Milk Update: Let's Focus on What's Important in School Nutrition

Calcium Shortfall

one in ten girls At a critical time when bone is being formed, only one in ten school-age girls and four in ten boys meet their calcium requirements (see calcium and kids).2 and flavored milk gives children another choice for meeting their requirements. Children and teens that do not get enough calcium and vitamin D compromise their bone health and put themselves at risk for developing osteoporosis later in life.



four in ten boys

While most children love the taste of unflavored milk, others prefer flavored milk. Reducing the sugar intake from "extra" foods, like sodas and candy makes more sense than reducing sugars from nutrient-rich foods like milk. All in all, flavored milk provides a healthy option to round out the recommended dairy servings that both children and adults need.

Chocolate Milk in Schools

young Girl Drinking chocolate Milk at school

Some schools are removing flavored milk from their cafeterias due to pressure from a few vocal parents or school officials. The logic seems simple: remove flavored milk because it contains added sugar. In hopes to combat childhood obesity and make the menu healthier, however, some decision-makers may not be aware of the nutritional impact this change has on the choices school children make in the cafeteria, and the resulting nutritional consequences it has.

A number of studies have shown that when flavored (usually chocolate) milk is removed from school lunches, milk consumption drops:

  • One study in 49 elementary schools found that total milk consumption dropped an average of 35 percent when flavored milk was eliminated. Consumption dropped because fewer students were selecting milk at all, and more of the white milk that was selected was discarded.
  • Another smaller study in 11 elementary schools found when chocolate milk was banned from the cafeteria, milk sales declined by almost 10 percent, 30 percent of the white milk was thrown away, and 7 percent fewer students chose to eat school lunches!
  • Finally, a study in Canada found during a one-month trial where chocolate milk was removed, almost one-half of the students who were using the milk program stopped drinking milk in school. During this time there was no adaptation to drink more white milk.

Children who consume flavored milk are more likely to reach their daily recommended intake of calcium and less likely to consume low-nutrient beverages such as soda and sugary juice drinks.And, children who drink flavored or plain milk consume more nutrients and have a lower or comparable body weight than children who don’t drink milk.3

Thus, banning flavored milk fails in practice. If kids toss their white milk cartons in the trash—which they often do—they get no nutritional benefit. That’s a risky proposition.


1 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

NHANES 2003-06.

3 Murphy MM, et al. J Amer Diet Assoc 2008;108:631-39.

USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference:

Frary CD, Johnson, RK, Wang MQ. Journal of Adolescent Health 2004;34, 56-63.