Flavored milk may help children meet dairy recommendations

  • Article
  • November 1, 2017

Elieke Demmer, Ph.D., RD, helped support Leila Shinn, MS, RD, NDC Nutrition Research intern, on this post.

Some people may stop drinking or serving flavored milk to cut back on added sugars, but flavored milk only contributes an average of 4 percent of the added sugars in U.S. children’s diets, while providing nine essential nutrients children need for growth and development. 

A recent study showed that among children (2 to 18 years), drinking flavored milk was associated with drinking more milk overall and consuming more nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D. The study used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2001-2012 and did not include flavored soy beverages or other plant-based alternatives.

The study found that children who drank flavored milk:

  • Drank more milk than children who did not drink flavored milk.
  • Had had a higher likelihood of meeting the Estimated Average Requirement for calcium, yet a lower likelihood of meeting Adequate Intake for fiber.
  • Had a higher likelihood of meeting the Estimated Average Requirement for magnesium (among those between 4 to 8 and 9 to 13 years).

The researchers found that, whether or not they drank milk, children were not meeting the requirements for calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, fiber or potassium. However, their results showed that flavored milk drinkers of various ages consumed more calcium, vitamin D, potassium and magnesium than those who did not drink flavored milk.

As a dietitian, this research makes me feel assured in giving the following advice on flavored milk when it comes to children: The only way to get nutrition from foods is to eat them. Leading health and wellness organizations agree that limited amounts of added sugar in nutrient-rich foods, like flavored milk, can help improve the quality of children’s diets. Therefore, as long as low-fat or fat-free flavored milk is consumed within the recommended servings of dairy and does not exceed calorie needs or added sugar recommendations, it can be part of a healthy eating pattern for children.