Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Weighs in on Artificially Sweetened Milk

choc milk

A few weeks ago we wrote about a proposal to change labeling requirements on chocolate milk. The FDA has been petitioned by the dairy industry to remove any indication from the front of pack regarding the milk product’s sweetener source.

Most chocolate milk is sweetened with sugar or high fructose corn syrup, but there are milks sweetened with aspartame, an artificial sweetener of concern to many parents. Currently, artificially sweetened milk requires a front of pack wording “reduced calorie”. The dairy industry would have that clue removed. This is order to encourage school kids to drink more milk. We asked you to petition the FDA not to allow this change.

Yesterday, the professional trade group formerly known as the American Dietetic Association, and today known as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, issued a statement urging the FDA to reject the request of the dairy industry.

This is an interesting development for two reasons:

  • The reason provided by AND for its position was technical, not moral. That’s to say, AND found no issue with the confusion this type of label change would cause, or the fact that aspartame is a very controversial sweetener from a safety perspective. In fact AND has no issues with aspartame. What the AND claims is that there is no evidence that changing the front of pack label would encourage an increase in consumption of milk. And “In addition, flavored milk is not a major source of added sugar in children’s diets.” So why even bother. Once can ask, should the AND weigh in on marketing tactics of food companies and their morality?
  • The dairy industry is a sponsor of the AND. From past behavior of AND with respect to its sponsors, we expected AND to stay silent. The fact that AND went openly against a sponsor is a very interesting development. We worry that AND is sponsored by junk food companies because it has an effect on what AND says, and more importantly what it does not say when it comes to public health and nutrition policies. That’s why yesterday’s announcement is a positive signal. Perhaps a a next step, AND can have a clearer message when it comes to junk foods and beverages being sold by its other sponsors.

Our recommendations to parents:

  • Keep your kids away from artificial sweeteners. They may be safe, but there is enough evidence that they are not. Why take a chance?
  • Chocolate milk has 3 teaspoons of added sugar per cup. That’s a lot. If you were to add 3 tsp of sugar to plain milk, it would be way too sweet. Teach your kids to enjoy plain milk, or milk with just one teaspoon of nesquik or some other choco-flavoring.

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  • E

    In my opinion, if a product contains aspartame, then it should be labeled as such. Why hide behind fluffy words like “reduced calories” and confuse consumers? Recently, my husband came home with 2L of “reduced calories” chocolate milk, mistaken it for the 1% chocolate milk that I like. He didn’t know there was a difference. I agree we all need to educate our kids to like foods as they are: milk without the chocolate, veggies without the dip, etc. Sure, my kids indulge in chocolate milk but only once in awhile – we only buy it when it goes on sale, we dilute it with regular milk and we only allow it once a day (when we have it). For us, chocolate (even diluted) is a treat, not a source of calcium.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/ Fooducate

      That’s a good philosophy – “For us, chocolate (even diluted) is a treat, not a source of calcium.”

    • Vince

      Carrageenan in your chocolate milk causes cancer and the sugar or hfcs you feed your children is making then obese and killing them, such a great parent you are madam!

    • Vince

      “Sugar” meaning beet sugar not cane to be precise, keep feeding your children gmos and they will die before you will, I guarantee, you are raising the first generation of offspring that will live less than their parents!

  • Howie G

    Why is 3 teaspoons of sugar considered “a lot.” 1 teaspoon of sugar equal 4 grams, which equals 16 calories. So, if I do the math correctly – 3 teaspoons would be 12 grams and 48 calories. So less than 50 calories is “a lot” of sugar? Yes, we should be eating less added sugars – but if it’s a difference of taking in 48 less calories or taking in 48 more calories – plus over 20 vitamins and minerals that kids need to grow and be healthy – I still think the latter is better. The CDC just came out with a report that concluded “about
    six in 10 people either overweight or obese and large numbers engaging in
    unhealthy behavior.” We need to focus on behavior and lifestyle and not on a singular food or nutrient. It’s not the chocolate milk that’s bad – it’s all food and beverages that are not eaten in balance with appropriate exercise and healthy habits. Does anyone else feel like we are simply spinning our wheels when it comes to health and nutrition? Maybe because the solution is a hard pill to swallow and will take decades (maybe 5 or even 10 decades) to reverse? I guess bullying some food or nutrient is the easier – and more sensationalized – solution….

    • http://www.fooducate.com/ Fooducate

      the problems:
      1. kids are encouraged to drink 3 glasses of milk a day. So that’s an extra 150 calories from sugar.
      2. Milk can taste great on its own, or with one teaspoon added of chocolate flavoring. With overly sweet chocolate milk (and other treats) we are acclimating our kids’ taste buds not to enjoy naturally sweet fruits, for example.

      • Howie G

        Kids are recommended to get 3 servings of dairy (not 3 glasses of chocolate milk/day). They are encouraged to get a variety of foods – what about the yogurt? Talk about a health halo!
        Taste and sweet perceptions are individual – anecdotal observations shouldn’t be a reason to green light or stop people from eating foods they enjoy.

        • http://www.fooducate.com/ Fooducate

          childhood obesity is not anecdotal…

      • The Candid RD

        I would never want to get more added sugar from a healthy drink like milk. I’d rather eat a brownie. 48 grams of sugar is a lot, consider milk normally only has 12 grams.

  • Karen Ansel

    I’m not sure if all the information in your blog is correct. If you read the Academy’s entire comment to the FDA you’ll see that they clearly state with regard to consumption of non-nutritive sweeteners by children that “there is still uncertainty particularly about the long-term use and about low-level exposure effects on the health and development of children. The comment also goes on to recommend that the FDA therefore use caution regarding its final ruling. What’s more, the Academy does appear to find issue with the proposed labeling changes, stating “The Academy concludes the petition fails to cite the requisite convincing, sound scientific or factual data showing that the recommended amendments will promote honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers and are therefore inappropriate…” While it may not have been possible to include all of this information in the press release that was distributed to media, the Academy’s comment to the FDA clearly addresses these concerns.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/ Fooducate

      Hi Karen, thanks for your input. Regarding safety of artificial sweeteners, the Press Release quotes AND’s president:

      “The Academy’s recommendation to deny the petition is not based on the safety of artificial sweeteners,” noted Bergman. “Consumers can enjoy a range of nonnutritive sweeteners when consumed within a healthful eating plan.”

      That sounds like an approval of their safety, but we’re happy that in the actual letter to the FDA, AND is worried about aspartame and other non nutritive sweeteners.

      • Karen Ansel

        Thanks. Because the press release only scratches the surface, I wanted to make sure your readers know that the Academy did address the issue of nonnutritive sweeteners and children’s health.

  • The Candid RD

    I agree with AND, there is no convincing evidence that aspartame is really harmful. That being said, I’d still like to know if it was in my food/drink. Doesn’t the warning about phenylalanine give it away??

    • http://www.fooducate.com/ Fooducate

      If you read about the history of aspartame’s approval process, you may change your mind.

  • Jeanne Blankenship

    What I find interesting is that over the past three years, the Academy has submitted over 58 letters during open comment periods regarding nutrition policy. These are all posted on the regulatory page of the website. Our process for submitting comments includes the following: 1) Deciding if the topic in line with our public priority areas (also published on the website) 2) a review of our position papers, evidence analysis library finding 3) expert opinion by our member leaders and content expert members and a final review by members. You will notice nowhere in that process is a mention of sponsors. In fact, we don’t even think about that when we prepare our submissions. While you may think that our speaking out on an issue where we may have differences from those with whom we have a relationship is novel, it is, in fact, not a “new development.” Of the 58 comments over the past years, you might want to take a look at the comments AND submitted most recently on Competitive Food In Schools and in 2011 on Marketing of Food to Children. You will see that we base our comments on sound scientific literature. If you don’t have these two comments, let me know — I will email them to you.

  • Vince

    REALLY!!! ADVOCATING NESQUICK!!! GMOS AND HFCS ARE WORSE THAN ANY MASS AMOUNT OF REFINED CANE SUGAR, YES CANE!! NOT BEET, CORN or HFCS!!! CANE SUGAR, YOUR BODY CAN PROCESS IT WITHOUT BECOMING DIABETIC, AND BEFORE YOU ASK INSULIN HAS GMOS IN IT!

  • Vince

    I am REALLY starting to hate the BIASED CRAP that You “FOODUCATE” whom I USED to admire are spewing!!