Milk Fight

Doctor says flavored milk, high fructose corn syrup not bad for kids.

Dr. James Rippe, Rippe Lifestyle Institute

CELEBRATION, Fla.—With the nationwide effort to make school lunches healthier, milk has become a focal point in many school districts. Flavored milk and high fructose corn syrup have come under fire, especially from parents. But one leading cardiologist and researcher says flavored milks have become unfairly vilified.

Dr. James Rippe, founder of the Rippe Lifestyle Institute and professor of biomedical science at the University of Florida, cautions making changes to a school’s milk offerings. Rippe, who spoke at the School Nutrition Association’s conference last month in Denver, gave FSD a preview of his talk.

“Some schools unfortunately have made the decision to ban flavored milk,” Rippe says. “The rationale for people arguing that that’s a good thing to do is the added sugar that typically accompanies flavored milk. The reason that they are concerned about that is because these individuals think that limiting added sugars is a positive thing that can be done to help with a very significant issue that we have in our country of childhood obesity.

“It’s a laudable goal to try to do something about childhood obesity, but [eliminating flavored milk] is a big mistake,” Rippe says. “The reason for that is about two-thirds of milk that is consumed at school is flavored milk.”

Rippe says studies have shown that when flavored milk is eliminated at schools, milk consumption drops by about one-third and that consumption levels do not rebound to pre-eliminated numbers.

“There’s a side issue that I think is also important,” Rippe adds. “That is some schools have said, ‘we’ll allow schools to have chocolate milk, but it can’t have high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). It can have sucrose but not HFCS.’”

Rippe says that HFCS and sucrose are essentially the same nutritionally.

“It’s unfortunate that the name says HFCS because it kind of suggests that it’s high in fructose, but it isn’t,” he says. “HFCS was developed as an alternative to replace sucrose in certain food and beverage applications. There are two forms of it. They are basically about half fructose and half glucose. Sucrose in contrast is 50% fructose and 50% glucose. They are virtually interchangeable. They have the same number of calories, the same number of sweetness. They are absorbed identically in the human GI tract.”

Rippe says that although there is no reason for dairies to reformulate milk to be made without HFCS they will often do so to keep the business. “I think sometimes [reformulating milk] is the next step that a school system says, ‘if you don’t have sucrose in milk we’re not going to buy it.’ The dairy says OK. Then they will accede to that because they want the business. I attended the School Nutrition Association conference last year and over and over again nutrition directors came up to me and said, ‘thank you for being here, but you don’t understand the pressure that we’re under.’ A number of them said that, ‘once a group of parents gets it in their head that this is going to happen, no matter what I do it’s very hard to convince them.’”

HFCS has been around for 40 years, and until 2004 HFCS wasn’t seen as being nutritionally bad. That year two researchers published an article noting it was interesting that obesity had increased during the 40 years that HFCS had been available. The researchers did not say HFCS caused obesity; they simply noted it was an interesting parallel.

“They have both now publicly withdrawn that comment,” Rippe says of the authors. “It is the most downloaded article in history from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It got a lot of play. Once it took off on the Internet, it seems to have gathered a life of its own.”  

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