Flavoured milk often gets a bad rap, lumped into the same category as other sugary drinks like cordial and fruit drinks. But there's an important distinction between flavoured milk and other sugary drinks - and that's the milk part.
Unlike cordial and fruit drinks which contain no healthy nutrients, flavoured milk, just like plain milk, provides protein, calcium and other essential nutrients which are often lacking in children's diets.
Our dietitians whey (...get it) in on this dairy debate and answer the question - is flavoured milk good for kids?
The food matrix matters
SUGAR. We get so caught up about it. And we're not saying that we shouldn't care about added sugars - we definitely should, but there's more to the story than focusing on single nutrients and that's because we eat foods, not nutrients.
Now, of course, plain milk is the best choice and should absolutely be encouraged. However, some kids (and adults too) just don't like the taste of plain milk which could put them at risk of avoiding this nutritious food altogether. This is particularly concerning when we know most children and adolescents have inadequate intakes of calcium (1), during a key time for bone and muscle development.
Flavoured milk is an example of 'food vehicle', providing another option for people who don't like the taste of plain milk and encouraging consumption of nutritious dairy foods.
Flavoured milk facts
- On average, flavoured milk contains about one teaspoon of added sugar per 100ml of milk.
- Reduced-fat* flavoured milk contains about the same number of kilojoules as plain full-fat milk (~290kJ per 100ml).
- Children who drink flavoured milk have lower intakes of sugar-sweetened drinks and fruit drinks compared to children who don't drink flavoured milk (2,3,4). This suggests that non-flavoured milk drinkers aren't substituting it for plain milk, but for less nutritious sugary drinks instead.
- Flavoured milk drinkers are more likely to meet their requirements for calcium (2).
- Flavoured milk consumption does not lead to weight gain or changes in BMI (2,4).
- There is no association between flavoured milk intake and dental caries (5).
- Unlike other sugary drinks, flavoured milk is low GI, meaning it provides a sustained release of energy rather than a quick energy high (6).
*many flavoured milk drinks are based on reduced-fat milk.
So should you give your kids flavoured milk?
That's entirely up to you. There's no one size fits all response to this one.
If your kids enjoy plain milk, that's fantastic! If they don't but they happily eat cheese and yoghurt, that's fine too.
If your children prefer dairy alternatives such as soy or almond milk, choose varieties which contain added calcium.
Whatever you choose to feed your kids, remember that dairy foods and dairy alternatives are nutritious foods that provide essential nutrients to our diets.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4364.0.55.007. Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results - Food and Nutrients, 2001-12. Calcium. Canberra 2015.
- Fayet F, Ridges LA, Wright JK, Petcoz P. Australian children who drink milk (plain or flavoured) have higher milk and micronutrient intakes but similar body mass index to those who do not drink milk. Nutr Res. 2013;33 (2):95-102.
- Johnson RK, Frary C, Wang MQ. The nutritional consequences of flavoured-milk consumption by school-aged children and adolescents in the United States. J Am Diet Assoc. 2002;102(6):853-6.
- Murphy MM, Douglass JS, Johnson RK, Spence LA. Drinking flavoured or plain milk is positively associated with nutrient intake and is not associated with adverse effects on weight status in US children and adolescents. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008;108(4):302-10.
- Fayet-Moore F. Effect of flavoured milk vs plain milk on total milk intake and nutrient provision in children. Nutr Rev. 2015;74(1):1-17.
- The University of Sydney. Glycemic Index 2017.