In an effort to boost consumption of milk, the dairy industry wants to replace the sugar in milk with a zero-calorie sweetener. That's fine, says the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), just don't call it milk.

If added to milk, the product would no longer meet the FDA's definition of the dairy products (which includes being sweetened with nutritive sweeteners such as sugar or corn syrup). By adding non-nutritive (or zero-calorie) sweeteners, it's no longer considered milk, says the agency.

In addition to being able to label "artificially-sweetened milk" milk, the International Dairy Foods Association and the National Milk Producer's Federation are petitioning the FDA to drop the requirement to label such milk and other dairy products as "artificially sweetened" when they contain non-nutritive sweeteners. In other words, consumers would have no idea that aspartame, or sucralose, is in their milk.

Aspartame is already added to other dairy products, such as "lite" yogurts, but is listed as an ingredient. Proponents say it will help the childhood obesity epidemic while providing the nutritional benefits of milk. But experts like Alison Massey, MS, RD, a dietitian at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, say it's that's not necessarily the case.

"In terms of childhood obesity, a glass of standard chocolate milk has a lot of calories," Massey says, "But, in general, you have to watch any type of sugary beverages." Another problem, she says, is that artificial sweeteners are intensely sweet, so that drink will likely taste even sweeter than regular milk. So, it's a bit complicated.

The Pros and Cons of the Dairy Debate

Advocates of aspartame in milk say:

  • It's an option for people with diabetes—and especially for kids with diabetes. Drinking chocolate, or other flavored, milk sweetened with the artificial sweetener doesn't spike blood sugar as much.
  • It's a way to lower the caloric content of a nutritional beverage that children may like to drink.

Opponents of aspartame in milk say:

  • Some research studies with rats suggest that some artificial sweeteners may actually stimulate or increase appetite. Additionally, several epidemiological studies have examined the correlation between consumption of artificial sweeteners and weight gain.
  • Some parents may not want their children to consume beverages with artificial sweeteners. That poses a problem since children are not likely to read an ingredient list on the label (if it's listed).

Milk is a great source of calcium, protein, phosphorus, and other vitamins and minerals that are important to overall health. Children need calcium for bone development, and dairy is a solid option. However, it's not the only source, says Massey.

Milk alternatives such as soy, almond, and coconut milk are fortified with calcium (and in some cases, contain more calcium than dairy milk). Also interesting: some of these non-milks offer light varieties that are sweetened with stevia, a plant-based sugar substitute.

Alison Massey, MS, RD, LDN, CDE, reviewed this article.



"Aspartame in Milk?" 5 March 2013. Web.

"Aspartame in Milk: Dairy Industry Seeks Approval To Drop Label For Artificial Sweeteners." Bonnie Kavoussi 26 February 2013. Web.

"Possibly Coming to A Store Near You: Artificially Sweetened Milk (Yuck!)" Lisa Cericola. 27 February 2013. Web.

"Can Milk Sweetened With Aspartame Still Be Called Milk?" Allison Aubrey, 6 March 2013. Web.