Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Soda in Drag: Chocolate Milk

Soda in drag.  That's what the Renegade Lunch Lady, Chef Ann Cooper calls chocolate milk, and rightfully so.

Did you know grocery store chocolate milk provides around 26g to 28g of sugars per 250ml serving, and that this is comparable to the sugar in soda pop?  That's around 5 teaspoons of sugar in one little carton

That doesn't seem to worry America's Milk Producers, whose campaign named Refuel America promotes chocolate milk to teen athletes and school kids.  It promises to provide information on the science behind low fat chocolate milk.  However, when I clicked through to the links all I found were links to a Facebook page:


I had read about a study from a couple of years ago that supported chocolate milk as a recovery drink for athletes, but until this morning, I hadn't bothered to dig it up.

You can read the 2006 study online here.  First and foremost, you need to know that

Here is what I believe is the most important information to take away from the study:
  • It studied the effects of chocolate milk, a carbohydrate replacement drink (with the same carbohydrate and protein as chocolate milk) and a fluid replacement drink (a drink with less sugar or protein than the carbohydrate replacement;  its function is to replace electrolytes) on nine endurance-trained athletes who were exercised to exhaustion in 3 separate trials.  In other words, there were 27 outcomes in total.
  • The researchers expected the chocolate milk and the carb replacement to show similar results
  • In fact, none of the three drinks stood out particularly, except in the time it took the athletes to become exhausted - unexpectedly, the carbohydrate replacement drink was the worst performer, and the chocolate milk and fluid replacement drinks were roughly equal.  The researchers speculated that the types of sugar and the amount of fat in the chocolate milk may have been the cause.

So, based on a limited study with limited results, the researchers concluded:
The dairy industry, as the sponsor, is delighted to claim that athletes of all ages are smart to choose chocolate milk.  Why not, when sport drinks are increasingly less welcome (as of this school year, energy drinks are no longer allowed to be offered by Ontario schools). 

The vast majority of people working out are hardly endurance athletes, and most never work out to exhaustion.  Certainly the dairy industry has much more money to make by aiming at young people as a group, rather than a tiny group of real endurance athletes.

I wonder how many people who believe chocolate milk has superior properties have actually read this study, which incidentally did not compare the effectiveness of chocolate milk to regular white milk.  Do people realize how underwhelming the results were and that there doesn't appear to be a whole lot of rigorous science behind the study?  And how many of them realize the dairy industry sponsored it?

Presumably there are other studies to back up the dairy industry's claim.  But I found this one to be  frustratingly flimsy, and I am afraid other studies might have little more scientific rigour to back them up.

Chocolate milk is a drink that you ought to stay well away from if you are limiting your carbohydrate intake to lose weight - even regular milk should be consumed cautiously, for the same reason.  But if you have children who are active and not at all overweight, please don't be fooled into believing you're doing them any favours by giving them chocolate milk.  Unless they are endurance athletes, it's unlikely that it's going to do them much good, and chances are much greater that the excessive sugar is setting them up with some very poor dietary habits.

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