By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook
Jamie Oliver at his widely followed website this week linked to this blog, Better D.C. School Food, and news that D.C. Public Schools will no longer serve flavored milk and sugary cereals. The result was more than 100 times the usual number of visitors yesterday and more than 100 comments, almost unanimously supporting the effort to reduce the amount of sugar served to kids in school.
Many of those comments, from readers around the country, constitute pleas to school officials to take similar steps to make food healthier in their school districts. It appears there is a huge demand to restrict flavored milk in particular. But the powerful dairy industry has managed to scare many parents and food service directors into believing that children will suffer horrible health consequences if they do not have access to milk laced with high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavorings, colorings and other additives.
Most of the industry's flavored milk is served in schools and schools pay more for it. But an eight-ounce serving of low-fat milk already contains 12 grams of sugar--or three teaspoons--in the form of naturally occurring lactose. Chocolate milk typically has another 12 to 14 grams of sugar in the form of high-fructose corn syrup added, making it nearly the equivalent of Classic Coke. Strawberry milk has even more sugar, almost as much as Mountain Dew.
Parents for Better D.C. School Food have argued that school meals could be made healthier overnight simply by eliminating the sugary "treats" served to children on a daily basis, especially at breakfast. In D.C. schools, breakfast options typically include flavored milk, sugary cereals, Pop-Tarts, Giant Goldfish Grahams, Otis Spunkmeyer muffins and fruit juice, meaning elementary school children often are consuming 50 or 60 grams of sugar--the equivalent of 15 teaspoons--before classes even start.
Ironically, despite all the regulations and standards governing the nutritional content of food served under the federally subsidized meals programs, there is no limit on the amount of sugar that can be served. Like the dairy industry, the sugar lobby in this country is a powerful force. Even the recently approved "Healthy Schools Act" here in the District of Columbia, while increasing funding for school meals and raising nutrition standards, failed to take on the sugar issue, ostensibly because there are no existing standards on which to base local regulations.
It was up to school officials to take the first, bold step.
D.C. school officials have said that in addition to eliminating flavored milk, they will also be choosing cereals with six grams of sugar or less. That would rule out virtually all of the cereals served until now by the D.C. Public Schools' current food service provider, Chartwell's. So far, however, school officials have not responded to our inquiries about possible new protocols for serving other sugary processed foods and fruit juices.
As recently as a couple of weeks ago, my daughter and her classmates at H.D. Cooke Elementary School were being served Pop-Tarts for breakfast in their classroom. A single serving of "whole grain frosted strawberry" Pop-Tart contains 13 grams of sugar, or a bit more than three teaspoons. Here are the ingredients listed on the packaging:
"Whole wheat lfour, high fructose corn syrup, enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, Thiamin mononitrate (Vitamin B1), riboflavin (Vitamin B2), folic acid), soybean and palm oil (with TBHQ for freshness), polydextrose, sugar, dextrose, corn syrup solids, corn syrup, whole grain barley flour, glycerin, contains two percent or less of inulin from chicory root, wheat starch, salt, dried strawberries, dried pears, dried apples, cornstarch, leavening (baking soda, sodium acid pyrophosphate, moncalcium phosphate), natural and artificial strawbery flavor, citric acid, gelatin, caramel color, soy lecithin, xanthan gum, modified wheat starch, Vitamin A palmitate, niacinimide, red #40, reduced iron, pyridoxine hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), yellow #6, riboflavin (Vitamin B2), thiamin hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), folic acid.
4 months ago