Halloween fun often involves sugary sweets. If you fear your child is gobbling too much candy this month, could the answer to better nutrition be… more chocolate?
Maybe, says Jodi Nemeth, a registered dietitian with Pediatric Associates of Livingston. Nemeth has a passion for educating children on the importance of proper nutrition and exercise.
The trick to enjoying a chocolate milk treat is maintaining balance. “Like any food or beverage, moderation is key,” she says. “Drinking real dairy milk, including chocolate milk, provides many health benefits to kids and can be a part of a healthy diet.”
Essential nutrients for your little pumpkins
Nemeth notes that chocolate milk has the same essential nutrients found in white milk. These include calcium and vitamin D, which are important for bone health. “As a pediatric dietitian and mother of four, I always say ‘You only get one chance to build your bones!’ Plus, the calcium in dairy milk is easily absorbed and used by the body,” she adds.
Flavored milk offers a handy option to help kids over 5 years old get the two to three servings of dairy they need each day.
“Chocolate milk may help children who do not like white milk get the dairy servings they need each day,” Nemeth says. “This allows kids to get all the health benefits of milk.” Children should also be encouraged to consume other dairy foods to meet the recommended daily servings. “Yogurt is a good source of probiotics and cheese makes a great protein-rich snack.”
Other nutrients in dairy milk, including chocolate milk, include vitamin A, B vitamins and protein. These are vital in promoting healthy body functions such as converting food into energy, central nervous system development, building muscle and red blood cells, and supporting a healthy immune system.
Don’t be spooked with chocolate milk at school
Haunted by concerns of childhood obesity and worries about promoting tooth decay, some parents may think chocolate milk is better off of school menus. A 2014 peer-reviewed study found removing chocolate milk from school cafeterias may lead students to take less milk overall, to drink less and waste more of the white milk they do take and no longer purchase school lunch.
Keep calm, trick or treat, and drink on
“Research doesn’t show a link between drinking chocolate milk and children becoming overweight,” Nemeth says. “Flavored milk contributes only a minimal amount of added sugar to children’s diets,” she adds. “Soft drinks and other non-nutritive sweetened beverages, like sports drinks, contribute about 40% of the added sugars that kids consume.”
Surprisingly, the added calories in low-fat chocolate milk are minimal. “Chocolate milk only has an additional 40 calories than white milk,” Nemeth points out. “I see lack of physical activity, fast food and consumption of soft drinks and other sweetened beverages contributing to kids being overweight. I haven’t had to reduce the chocolate milk in a child’s diet.”
A wickedly good recovery beverage
Nemeth says that chocolate milk isn’t a nutritious treat just for kids. Energetic adults can benefit from working this wicked-good beverage into a healthy diet, too. Adding low-fat chocolate milk to your post-workout meal can benefit your body because it supplies many of the key nutrients needed as part of a daily training diet. Chocolate milk contains the ideal amount of carbohydrates and high-quality protein that may promote better performance the following day compared to carbohydrate-only beverages like sports drinks.
“As a long-distance runner and mom of four active kids, we choose chocolate milk to refuel and rehydrate after exercising,” Nemeth says. “It has the right combination of carbohydrates and protein that your muscles need and contains electrolytes that are lost in sweat. Plus, it tastes great!”
Bottom line: Chocolate milk is terrifyingly tasty, and a totally nutritious beverage for the family.
For more information visit the United Dairy Industry of Michigan at MilkMeansMore.org.