Chocolate Milk Advice – Syrup, Powder, or Ready-to-Drink? [Inside the Label]

We recently wrote about chocolate milk with too much sugar being served in school lunches. We also covered a chocolate drink that’s better left on the shelf. But as parents, we can’t ignore the fact that kids LOVE sweetened milk. So what alternatives are there for breakfast, suppertime, or afternoon snack companion?

We decided to compare 3 options – ready to drink chocolate milk, powder, and syrup. For simplicity, we checked the category leader – Nesquik – which has all these options available. We only had powder at home, so we went to Nesquik’s website for more info. Unfortunately, the Nesquik website does not include ingredient information, which always means there’s something to be ashamed of…
What you need to know:

Let’s start with the easy/lazy option – Nesquik Ready To Drink Chocolate Milk. Here’s the ingredient list:

Reduced Fat Milk with Vitamin A Palmitate and Vitamin D3 Added, Sugar, Less than 2% of Cocoa Processed with Alkali, Calcium Carbonate, Cellulose Gel, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Salt, Carrageenan, Cellulose Gum.

Explanations: The milk is fortified, just like plain milk is. Sugar is the second ingredient, followed by not too much cocoa (less than 2%!). The calcium carbonate is just an addition to the calcium already present in the milk. the cellulose and carrageenan are natural and safe thickeners that make the drink a bit more viscous and feel a bit fuller in the mouth compared to regular milk. Heaven knows what the artificial and natural flavors are, but be sure that they add much more chocolaty taste than the measly 2% cocoa.
A 1 cup serving contains 28 grams of sugar, equivalent to 7 teaspoons of sugar! Three of those teaspoons are naturally present in milk as lactose, but there are 4 added teaspoons of sugar courtesy of Nesquik.  That’s a lot of added sugar in a small 1 cup drink. Not something kids should consume on a regular basis.

On to Nesquik Chocolate Syrup. Ingredients:

Sugar, Water, Cocoa, Processed with Alkali (Adds a Trivial Amount of Fat), Tricalcium Phosphate, Salt, Citric Acid, Potassium Sorbate (Preservative), Artificial Flavor, Xanthan Gum, Caramel Color, Red 40, Blue 1, Yellow 6

The tricaclium phosphate is a calcium fortification, similar to what the ready to drink product includes. The citric acid is used as a preservative. Xantham gum is a natural thickener. Caramel color is created by carmelization of carbohydrates, in the presence of various acids. Red 40, Blue 1, Yellow 6 are all artificial colors that have been shown in some studies to cause hyperactivity in children. Why add yellow red and green colorants to a brown syrup? Here’s the answer Chef Rob Endelman got when he called Nesquiks tool-free customer inquiry number. You can’t keep your kids 100% away from artificial colors and maintain a sane social order, but let’s keep the amount low and not waste artificial colors on products where they don’t even get to shine!

A serving of syrup is 2 tablespoons mixed into a cup of milk. Those 2 tablespoons are chock full of 23 grams of sugar (6 teaspoons)! That’s crazy. Luckily parents can – and do – use a much smaller amount when mixing with milk.

Which leaves us with the pwdered option – Nesquik Chocolate Milk Drink Mix. The packaging promises “25% less sugar” but doesn’t say less than what. Annoying. We’ll get to the sugar in a moment.  Here are the ingredients:

Sugar, Cocoa Processed with Alkali, Soy Lecithin, Carrageenan, Salt, Artificial Flavors, Spice. Vitamins and Minerals: Calcium Carbonate, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Zinc Oxide, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Copper Gluconate, Manganese Sulfate, Biotin.

Here we have sugar and cocoa, and a whole bunch of fortifications to make the product appear sexier on the nutrition facts label (which the Nesquik website proudly displays).  keep in mind that better sources of vitamins and minerals are always real foods, not fortified treats. The soy lecithin is a wetting, dispersing, and emulsifying element that keeps the powder, well,  powdery. No clue from the manufacturer as to what the “spice” or the artificial flavor are. But you can be sure that the add to the chocolate flavor at a much lower cost than increasing the real cocoa count.

A serving is 2 tablespoons of powder, and translates to 13 added grams of sugar, a bit more than 3 teaspoons. That’s quite a lot of sweet. We recommend halving the amount of powder mixed into the milk and then decreasing even that over time.

All three Nesquik items also add salt, which is kind of surprising for a sweet product, don’t you think? Thankfully the quantity is really small (less than 2% of the daily value from Nesquik plus 5% naturally from the milk)

What to do at the supermarket:
If you’re going to choose one of the three – go for the powder. It’s got the least “bad list of ingredients”, and you can control the  amount of sugary powder content added to the milk. If you are a purist, you can opt for 100% cacoa powder, for example Scharffen Berger Cocoa Powder, but it is a bit difficult to mix evenly with milk, and is a bit bitter in taste for most kids. Adding your own sugar can mitigate those issues a bit, leaving your child additive-free and happy.

If anyone has a homemade recipe or additional advice, please shoot away in the comments below. Thanks!

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  • http://www.healthyschoolscampaign.org Mark Bishop

    Really interesting article. Thanks for putting the time into this.

    I used to mix my own chocolate out of cocoa and sugar, but my wife eventually nixed that because she thought it was a pain in the @ss. Now she buys Trader Joe’s Midnight Moo and we mix it at a fraction of the recommended service size.

    The ingredients are: Organic sugar, water, organic cocoa, organic non-fat dry milk, organic vanilla, xanthan gum, soy lecithin, citric acid.

    We figure it’s a better option and used in moderation it’s a nice kids treat. And great in banana smoothies: http://bit.ly/bOEzFY

    Maybe we’ll start looking for a power option now.

  • http://notasgoodasporkcracklins.blogspot.com/ Amy

    Carrageenan may not be as safe as you think. Here’s just one study, but there are others: http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/members/2001/109p983-994tobacman/tobacman-full.html

  • http://feministchristian.blogspot.com/ Luna

    I always call to find out what’s in the “natural flavors”. It’s appalling. I’ve started to avoid that ingredient, especially because it often contains gluten, and we’ve got Celiac Disease in our house.

  • http://www.psychiclunch.com Psychic Lunch

    Yes, I agree with Amy and Luna here – Carrageenan and “Natural Flavors” are on my naughty list.

    Mark, in our house we went the other way! heh. Deciding against letting someone else adjust our sugar to chocolate ratio, we now make it at home in a variety of ways:

    Hot: Using either almond- or raw- milk, we mix it with powdered stevia and organic cocoa and heat to just-steaming (I don’t know what temperature that is, but it’s not too hot so it shouldn’t wreck the milk too much. I hope.)

    Cold: Raw milk + liquid Vanilla Cream stevia drops from SweetLeaf + raw egg yolk + organic cocoa — BLEND it all in a Vitamix and serve. It gets a bit foamy, but that’s yummy and it mixes the cocoa in properly.

  • http://oneparticularkitchen.com Erin @ One Particular Kitchen

    I do chocolate milk the same way I do my hot chocolate — just have to blend it a bit to get everything well dissolved: http://oneparticularkitchen.com/2010/01/17/hot-chocolate/

  • uRDietitian

    It is not surprising at all that salt is added to this item. Most sugary, sweet products have additional salt added to enhance other flavors. (in this case sweetness) The salt also has the added benefit of increasing your thirst, which gets you to drink even more. Take a look at the sodium content of a single serving of soda or energy drink sometime and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

    uRDietitian

  • sas

    I feed my kids either with Almond Breeze – chocolate almond milk (for the lactose intolerent child) or mix cocoa powder with honey and warm milk – they really like the taste and think others aren’t as good. At the moment I also have Green and Blacks in the cupboard which goes really well with Baileys!
    Thanks for all the information – really useful.

  • http://mixologyrecipes.com/ uRDietitian

    It is not surprising at all that salt is added to this item. Most sugary, sweet products have additional salt added to enhance other flavors. (in this case sweetness) The salt also has the added benefit of increasing your thirst, which gets you to drink even more. Take a look at the sodium content of a single serving of soda or energy drink sometime and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

    uRDietitian
    Should say solid post. Looking forward to reading the next post!

    • chewrocka

      Sounds like a conspiracy theory. The salt is just there because it enhanced the flavor of chocolate, try putting a tiny pinch of it in pre-made chocolate milk.

  • annie

    Mark Bishop :
    Really interesting article. Thanks for putting the time into this.
    I used to mix my own chocolate out of cocoa and sugar, but my wife eventually nixed that because she thought it was a pain in the @ss. Now she buys Trader Joe’s Midnight Moo and we mix it at a fraction of the recommended service size.
    The ingredients are: Organic sugar, water, organic cocoa, organic non-fat dry milk, organic vanilla, xanthan gum, soy lecithin, citric acid.
    We figure it’s a better option and used in moderation it’s a nice kids treat. And great in banana smoothies: http://bit.ly/bOEzFY
    Maybe we’ll start looking for a power option now.

    re: soy lecithin?? well, keep in mind most soy lecithin will be sourced from gmo
    soy. if a true boycott of gmo foods is to be effective then we must avoid ALL sources, no matter how seemingly miniscule it might be.

  • Bill

    @uRDietitian

    Do you even understand what the point of sodium/potassium in an energy drink is? It’s a miniscule amount that help replace sweat electrolyte losses. Your body loses about 900 to 1400 milligrams of sodium per liter of sweat. A liter of Gatorade has maybe 450mg/liter. Does the average Joe need to be drinking it? Nope. But when I’m out in the FL heat riding for anything more than an hour it’s needed.

  • Kitty

    Any thoughts on Ovaltine? or Horlicks?

  • Sharon

    Does anyone know if Gum Karaya has to be listed as an ingredient? I need to know what products have it and having trouble finding out, my son is allergic to it. Thank you

    • Makedarobinson

      Hey, Sharon
      I’m allergic as well and very new to this . Do you know any sites I can’ get info on what not 2o eat. I’m working off trial and error,not fun!

  • http://www.canadianfoodiegirl.com Andrea

    Raw cacao powder can be used as a base.
    Check out this recipe for Hot and Raw Cacao Power Smoothie: http://meghantelpnerblog.com/2009/12/24/raw-hot-chocolate-for-breakfast/
    or this: http://earthmother-intheraw.blogspot.com/2009/12/natures-prozac-hot-chocolate-in-raw.html

    Man, I want a Vitamix.

  • http://www.myheartsisters.org Carolyn Thomas

    Very interesting info here, but there is one more important reason to avoid these three options: they are all manufactured by Nestle.

    For more info about the Nestle consumer boycott, read: “Marketing That Kills: Why I Support The Nestle Boycott”: http://www.ethicalnag.org/2009/11/21/nestle-boycot/

    Also – isn’t there a concern about premixed chocolate milk in that it is made with milk that’s well past its ‘best before’ date?

    Love your site….

  • Michelle

    I buy Trader Joes Dominican Republic real coco and you use 2 spoons and 1 spoon for sugar it’s great!And it’s organic. Much better than nesquick mix, which isn’t anything close to coco. I’m sure you can find any coco mix for drinking that’s not bitter in any store.

  • http://yes--thankyou... Joe Hanlon of Sonoma CA

    OK…my only interest is getting 25% more sugar Nesquick–the older recipe didn’t need improvement..WHERE CAN I BUY NESQUICK OLD SCHOOL. Safeway sells powdered chocolate Nesquick in the mexican food section. One isle over is the American 25% less Nesquick that sells for more now that it has less of what we where happily ingesting with not care one regarding it’s sugar content-My body likes to guzzle a old mason jar full of ice cold milk mixed to the consistency of latex paint when done right…my body is 55 years still a kid when I would chug that big ol jug of happiness—-the syrup doesnt compare/ the mexican stuff is criminal and crap in a taste test even when using the new less for more theyve left us with…those where the days and the moments of inner joy and childlike happiness are like most good thing’s that have been improved in America…and under what umbrella of reasoning have these changes to improve something good into something of a fond memory…fading are our mind’s moments of joy..what value is a moment of satisfaction in a silly old simpleton’s life worth? Worth a value that drives old geasers like me to complain and wimper and fret over just like the simpering spineless little wimp Ive turned into all because theyve taken 25% of what was the whole me…the happy me…the moments of the me I miss…….
    Oh fyi–Ive already pilfered and bought out all my friends old school half full supplies–my excertions into the out of the way lil towns has driven me further and further into the heart of this Majestic idea called America..wander on my friends-never let the fire go out…joehanlon

  • http://yes--thankyou... Joe Hanlon of Sonoma CA

    Sorry about blathering and for the poor sentence structure..spellcheck is for Wimps and passe anyway —-aint it?

  • Christine

    Try TruMoo chocolate milk in your dairy case. Real milk!!!!