The next frontier for the food police: Eliminating milk from school lunch
posted at 1:45 pm on July 26, 2012 by Howard Portnoy
Got milk? Your child may not be able to answer yes for much longer if the so-called Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) gets its way. This self-appointed arbiter of all things nutrition-related has petitioned the U.S. government to remove milk as a required food group from the National School Lunch Program.
In the petition, the organization’s director of nutrition, Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., writes:
The nutritional rationale for including dairy milk in school meal programs was based primarily on its calcium content; therefore, dairy milk was presumed to promote bone health and integrity. This supposition has proven false. Abundant evidence has shown that milk has no special effect on bone health and does not prevent fractures in children or adults.
Calcium is an important nutrient, the petition goes on to note, but adds that “it is available from many other food sources that have a more healthful nutritional profile, compared with dairy products. (“Milk,” the reader learns elsewhere, “is high in sugar, high in fat and high in animal protein.”)
So what are some of these calcium-rich foods that can be fed to schoolchildren at lunchtime? They include “beans, green leafy vegetables (e.g., broccoli, kale, collard greens), tofu products, breads, and cereals.” Yum! Hard to imagine hungry third graders turning their noses up at a delicious and nutritious kale and tofu casserole.
Those who believe they can make this happen might want to do a reality check with Dennis Barrett, food services director of the Los Angeles Unified School District. When he revamped the menu served to the district’s 650,000 students to include lentil and brown rice cutlets, vegetarian curries, and quinoa salads, many of them began smuggling in junk food: candy, chips, corn dogs, and chicken nuggets. Barrett was ultimately compelled to scrap what one student dubbed “nasty, rotty stuff” and go back to serving burgers.
Nor are all nutritionists in agreement that milk has no redeeming value. TIME in its coverage of the “milk wars” notes that cow juice is rich in vitamin A, protein, potassium, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B12 and phosphorus. The article also quotes dissenting opinions on the merits of including milk in children’s diets. One of them is Keri Gans, a registered dietician and author of The Small Change Diet, who is quoted as saying, “I think it’s irresponsible to take this beverage that children enjoy, especially among those who are unable to meet their nutrient needs for the day, and remove it from the lunch line.”
Dr. Keith Ayoob, associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, agrees. “Parents all over the country are trying to get kids to eat and drink foods that are good for them, and milk is one of them,” he argues. “It’s a drink that kids really like.”
Finally, a 2008 report published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that drinking plain or flavored milk was associated with higher overall nutrient intake, and was not associated with weight gain.
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