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To heck with juleps or juices, Coca-Cola or water.
To dietitian Kelly Schriver, milk is the nectar of the gods, a drink as suited for a state dinner as a bottle of Dom Perignon.
"Milk has nine essential vitamins and minerals," said Schriver, adding that milk is even "nature's sports drink."
"It's a great option," Schriver said.
Her enthusiasm is understandable. Schriver is a program director for the Southeast United Dairy Industry Association.
Even those who are not paid by milk movers, however, agreed with Schriver when asked how to steer schoolchildren toward healthful drink choices.
Last week, the American Beverage Association announced that it was voluntarily banning sugary carbonated drinks in elementary and middle schools and restricting sales in high schools.
Discussion among parents, nutritionists and school officials followed. Why ban soft drinks and still peddle juice, when it has as many calories in some cases as a Coke? And aren't those yucky sweet, flavored milks just as bad for children as soft drinks?
Nutritionists and doctors agreed that for children and teens, milk, especially nonfat milk, is essential --- and the preferred drink at meals. Milk not only contains calcium but also vitamin D, which the body must have to absorb calcium. Water gets the nod above juices for snacking and drinking throughout the day. While milk is generally not available in school vending machines, children and teens should drink it with their meals, nutritionists and doctors said.
Growing preteen and teen girls need milk particularly. While girls younger than 9 and boys can get by with three servings of dairy a day, girls 9 to 18 need four servings of milk or dairy. Only about one in five girls in that age group is getting enough milk, studies suggest.
Children need milk early in life because about 90 percent of accumulated peak bone formation happens before age 20. If girls do not get enough calcium and vitamin D before then, they greatly increase their risk of getting osteoporosis after their periods stop later in life. As their bodies lose estrogen, they can lose up to 20 percent of their bone mass.
Recent studies indicate a more immediate risk: Teenage girls who drink five or more soft drinks a day --- and therefore displace milk consumption --- are at fivefold risk of fractures, said Dr. Robert Bruce, assistant professor of orthopedics at Emory University School of Medicine.
"Carbonated drinks harm children with the sugar and caffeine but also because they substitute for water and milk," Bruce said. "I encourage water and milk as drinks of choice."
Dr. Velimir Matkovic, director of Ohio State University Medical Center's Osteoporosis Prevention and Treatment Center, said he sees nothing wrong with an occasional soft drink, so long as it is sugar-free. But parents must make sure that kids don't drink soft drinks instead of milk.
"There's nothing wrong with a Coca-Cola or orange drink if you're meeting the calcium intake requirement," said Matkovic.
"It's a displacement issue, nothing else."
Parents should also look for the number of calories contained in juices, juice drinks and sports drinks.
"Sodas aren't the whole culprits," said Jamie Pope, a nutrition instructor at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing.
Pope, who recommends milk for children at meals and water or low-calorie fruit juices between meals, urges parents to consider whether the calories are "empty" --- do they come with lots of vitamins, nutrients and fiber, or are they simply liquid calories?
All of which is music to Schriver, the spouter of milk mantras.
"You should really judge the calories by the company they keep," Schriver said. "That's the great thing about the dairy case. There's something there for everyone."
Copyright 2005 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution