Sweetened milk consumption 'undermines' child diet quality, says Havard expert

By Mark ASTLEY contact

- Last updated on GMT

Sweetened milk consumption 'undermines' child diet, says Havard expert

Related tags: Milk

The industry-encouraged consumption of sweetened, reduced-fat, flavored milk by children as an alternative to plain whole milk “undermines diet quality,” a Harvard pediatric health expert has claimed.

Sweetened, reduced-fat dairy products such as chocolate milk, which can contain up 13g more sugar than ordinary milk, can be detrimental to the health of the consumer, according to Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, David Ludwig.

In an article outlining his concerns, Three Daily Servings of Reduced-Fat Milk: An Evidence-Based Recommendation?,​ Ludwig claimed that flavored milk consumption in the US “warrants special attention.”

“While limiting whole milk, some healthy beverage guidelines condone, and many schools provide, sugar-sweetened milk, with the aim of achieving recommended levels of total milk consumption in children,” ​said the article, which was published in the medical journal, JAMA Pediatrics.

“Not surprisingly, children prefer sweetened to unsweetened milk when given the choice, leading to a marked increase in the proportion of sweetened milk consumption in recent years.”

“However, the substitution of sweetened reduced-fat milk for unsweetened whole milk – which lowers saturated fat by 3g but increases sugar by 13g per cup – clearly undermines diet quality, especially in a population with excessive sugar consumption,” ​the article added.

Sugar increases milk “palatability”

Greg Miller, US Dairy Research Institute president and National Dairy Council (NDC) executive vice president of research, regulatory and scientific affairs, has defended the consumption of these sweetened, reduced-fat milk products – especially by children.

A small amount of sugar can increase the “palatability and appeal” ​of nutrient dense products such as milk, he said.

“Many Americans fall below the Dietary Guidelines recommended servings for dairy foods and are falling short on several key nutrients,” ​said Miller. “Milk, whether white or flavored, plays a key role in helping Americans, especially children, meet the recommended intakes of critical nutrients.”

According to Miller, flavored milk products contain the same nine essential nutrients found in ordinary milk - calcium, phosphorus, protein, vitamin A, D, and B12, riboflavin, and niacin. This is a “nutrient package difficult to find in other foods that are as affordable or appealing,”​ he added.

“Research shows that children who drink flavoured milk also drink more milk overall have better quality diets, do not have higher intakes of added sugar or fat, and are just as likely to be at a healthy weight compared to kids who do not consume flavoured milk.”

“Milk (white or flavored) is an affordable, great-tasting way to enhance the nutrient quality of your diet,” ​he argued.

No “nutritional requirement for animal milk”

In his article, Harvard pediatrician, Ludwig, also questioned the overall role of cow’s milk in human nutrition.

According to Ludwig, humans do not actually have any “nutritional requirement for animal milk,” ​which he describes as an “evolutionarily recent addition to diet.”

“Anatomically modern humans presumably achieved adequate nutrition for millennia before domestication of dairy animals, and many populations throughout the world today consume little or no milk for biological reasons (lactase deficiency), lack of availability, or cultural preferences,” ​said Ludwig.

“Adequate dietary calcium for bone health, often cited as the primary rationale for high intakes of milk, can be obtained from many other sources.”

Source: JAMA Pediatrics 2013;():1-2. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.2408.

Title: Three Daily Servings of Reduced-Fat Milk: An Evidence-Based Recommendation?

Authors: Ludwig DS, Willett W.

Related topics: R&D, Dairy Beverages

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