Saying No to Artificially-Sweetened Milk 37641

In a move that has many health advocates including registered dietitians and nutritionists and bloggers cheering on the sidelines, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) took a notable stand against a recent request by the dairy industry.

A few months ago, the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to change the definition—known as the standard of identity—of milk and milk products. They asked the FDA to allow milk and milk products to have artificial sweeteners like aspartame, or "any safe and suitable" sweetener added to them without having to disclose such additions on front-of-package food labels.

To justify their position, the IDFA and NMPF argued that providing lower-calorie flavored milk products—something many school-aged children enjoy—would help them consume a more healthful diet and reduce childhood obesity.

In a press release, the AND urged the FDA to reject the petition and to "keep milk milk." The Academy suggested that if the change is made, "consumers would need to read ingredients list on milk and milk products and learn to recognize non-nutritive sweeteners by their scientific name to know if they're included in the product." Current Academy President Ethan A. Bergman, cited in the release, also said there's a lack of evidence to substantiate the IDFA and NMPF claims about how a change like this would benefit children and their diets.

I love milk and always have. A few years ago, I served as a spokesperson for the Got Milk? campaign. I have also given talks to the community and professionals alike on behalf of the dairy industry. I would have never accepted these opportunities if I didn't drink milk myself, feed it to my children (which I do, daily), or believe in the many virtues of milk.

An eight-ounce cup or box of low-fat or nonfat milk has 83 and 102 calories, respectively. It also packs in a good or excellent source of nine essential nutrients that help kids grow and develop optimally. These include calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorus—critical for healthy bones and teeth; protein, important for building and repairing muscles; vitamin A, important for healthy skin, vision, and immunity; riboflavin, which helps turn food into energy; niacin, important for the function of enzymes (proteins that speed up chemical reactions in the body); and vitamin B12, which shuttles oxygen to working muscles.

But should we push flavored milk on children? Of course I like to encourage parents to first offer plain, low-fat or nonfat milk to their children—to expose them to a nutrient-rich beverage without added sugars. As it is, children over-consume sweets that put their added sugar intake at red flag levels. Too much added sugar in the diet also leaves less room—calorie-wise—for more nutritious fare like naturally sweet fruit, whole grains, beans and lean protein foods.

But for children who like flavored milk and/or won't drink plain milk, having it allows them to reap the many nutritional benefits milk provides. As long as they think of flavored milk as milk plus a cookie, and cut back on nutrient-poor sweet treats elsewhere, children can consume flavored milk as part of a well-balanced and healthful diet.

But offering milk flavored with artificial sweeteners is where I draw the line. I see no need to replace the sugar in flavored milk with artificial sweeteners. Why do children need even more exposure to these substances? Although having some may be safe for most when moderately consumed, why provide even more opportunity for children to consume them—especially questionable non-nutritive sweeteners like aspartame that the Centers for Science in the Public Interest urges us to avoid. It just doesn't make sense to me.

What's your opinion?