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Don't judge flavored milk and milk drinks by their packaging. Instead, check a few key points on the nutrition label.
Spokeswomen for the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) offer these label- reading tips geared specifically to milk products:
* Check the servings per container, found at the top of the Nutrition Facts box; most so-called single-serve bottles actually contain about two servings, not one. If that's the case, remember that chugging the whole bottle gives you up to twice the fat, calories, and sugar shown on the label.
* Check total fat. You want a product with no more than 3 grams per serving, the upper limit for a low-fat food; a cup of low-fat (1 percent) milk contains about 2.5 grams of total fat, including about 1.6 grams of saturated fat. Even better is fat-free milk. Most experts agree that low-fat and fat-free milks are the best choices for everyone over age 2.
* Check sugars, listed under total carbohydrates. Each cup of milk has 12 grams of naturally occurring lactose sugar, says ADA spokeswoman Rachel Brandeis, so to calculate how much sugar has been added to the milk, subtract 12 from the number shown for sugars. A chocolate milk with 30 grams of sugar per serving has about 18 grams of added sugar, or about 4 1/2 teaspoons. For comparison, a 12- ounce can of soda has about 10 teaspoons.
* Check calcium, listed with vitamins about halfway down the nutrition label. A drink that provides more than 10 percent of a day's calcium requirement is considered a good source; more than 20 percent is considered excellent, Brandeis says. A cup of milk - whether it's whole, reduced fat, low-fat, or fat-free - provides 30 percent of a day's average calcium needs, and some dairy processors add additional calcium.
Children ages 1 to 3 need only 500 milligrams of calcium daily, children 4 to 8 need about 800 milligrams, and kids 9 to 18 need 1,300 milligrams. To figure out how many milligrams they're getting from a particular food or drink, add a zero to the two-digit percentage number. For example, 35 percent equals 350 milligrams.
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