A staple in the diets of many children, flavoured milk has as much sugar and more calories than soft drinks like cola.
Parents view milk as having a well-earned place in their children’s healthy diets, and schools readily serve it to children. But when comparing the nutritional information of three local flavoured milk varieties with that of two popular colas, a very different picture emerges.
Per 100ml, chocolate milk has the highest sugar content of any drink, surpassing even carbonated colas:
Even plain unflavoured milk is relatively high in sugar. Flavoured milk also has more fat and roughly double the calorie content when compared to colas:
All of this should not come as a surprise. Milk is intended to be the primary source of nutrition for infant mammals, so it’s the liquid’s job to be so full of energy and sugar. Most flavored milk has additional sugar added to it.
Where milk does have some advantages compared to soft drinks is when it comes to nutrients like calcium and phosphorus, something most carbonated beverages lack entirely.
100ml of milk contain 14% of the recommended daily intake of calcium and 11% of phosphorus.
But many other food sources have the same or even more nutrients per serving as milk, without any of the extra sugar or calories. What tends to set milk apart is a carefully doctored wholesome image that allows it to unassumingly slip into what many people view as an essential part of a healthy diet.
This is not even mentioning that one of milk’s crucial claims – that it helps develop strong bones – is entirely unsupported by science, with 7 studies involving upwards of 6,000 participants failing to detect a change of the risk of hip fracture when a participant’s calcium intake was varied.
Humans have a weird relationship with milk
While milk is crucial for toddlers, whose developing brains need the extra fat, every single other mammal in the world stops drinking milk after early childhood. One to two thirds of Maltese adults can’t even drink milk because of lactose intolerance.
Humans probably began drinking milk to supplement their diets over the long winter months when little grew in their fields, which probably explains why Northen Europeans have the highest rates of lactase persistence – the presence of the lactase enzyme that allows the digestion of milk. In virtually every other mammal, the activity of this enzyme is dramatically reduced after weaning.
Besides the handful of populations that used it as a supplement for survival, for most of history, the majority of humans didn’t even consume milk daily. In her 2015 book Got Milked?, author Alissa Hamilton examines in detail how the milk first produced to be turned into condensed milk for war rations in the world wars led to large scale changes of how dairy farms operated. When the wars ended, the large-scale production of milk was cleverly resold to general consumers under the guise of being healthy.
Milk isn’t “evil” by any stretch
All of this isn’t to say that milk is bad for you. It however should only be thought of as a sugary and calorie laden alternative to other sugary and calorie laden drinks. If you or your child enjoys milk, then by all means, keep drinking it, but be aware that it’s not an essential part of anyone’s diet, nor will it make you any healthier. Only exceptional marketing has convinced you otherwise.