Chocolate milk is one of those drinks that many of us consider to be a guilty pleasure (myself included), and I'm sure it's not a stretch to say we have all tried to convince ourselves at one time or another that it's better to drink chocolate milk vs no milk at all. This week I decided to treat myself to a one litre carton of chocolate milk (something I only do once or twice a year) and noticed that the carton displayed the claim "Low in Cholesterol" on the front of the label.
- The product I bought was made with 1% partly skimmed milk which, as per the Canadian Nutrient File, contains 13 mg of cholesterol per 1 cup (250 mL) serving.
- The Canadian Nutrient File confirms a cholesterol value of 8 mg per 1 cup (250 mL) serving for chocolate milk made with 1% partly skimmed milk.
- The chocolate milk I bought and the carton of 1% partly skimmed milk I had in my fridge both declared a rounded cholesterol value of 10 mg per 1 cup (250 mL) serving.
- Contain 20 mg or less of cholesterol per reference amount (250 mL) and per the serving size stated on the nutrition facts table on the label (250 mL).
- Meet the conditions for the claim "Low in Saturated Fat", which requires that the food contains 2 g or less of saturated fat and trans fat combined per reference amount (250 mL) and per the serving size stated on the nutrition facts table on the label (250 mL).
- Provide 15% or less energy from the sum of saturated fat and trans fat.
Believe it or not, chocolate milk has a standard prescribed in the Food and Drug Regulations (B.08.016), which means it must meet specific requirements. In addition to a flavouring preparation (in this case cocoa and artificial flavour), a sweetening agent (e.g. sugar, invert sugar, glucose syrup, etc.), and vitamin D, it may also contain:
- Colours (natural and/or artificial colours)
- Lactase (an enzyme)
- A stabilizing agent (such as carrageenan, acacia gum, carob bean gum, and locust bean gum)
- Not more than 50,000 total aerobic bacteria per cubic centimetre.
A bit of a technical explanation I know, but what it means is that the Canadian Nutrient File data, as well as the information displayed on the chocolate milk label I bought, and the 1% partly skimmed milk label I had in my fridge, all meet the requirements to display the claim "Low in Cholesterol".
Also, none of the mandatory or optional ingredients that are added to chocolate milk products contain cholesterol. Therefore, the only source of cholesterol in 1% partly skimmed milk is the milk and it appears based on Canadian Nutrient File data, and cholesterol values declared on 1% partly skimmed milk products on the market, that the amount of cholesterol does not surpass 13 mg per 1 cup (250 mL) serving, which is well within the "Low in Cholesterol" requirements.
So Why is this Claim Misleading?
Although the chocolate milk meets the requirements of what Health Canada defines as a "Low in Cholesterol" food, all chocolate milk currently on the market also meets these requirements, and therefore it is misleading to imply this product offers a health benefit over a competitive brand. If you saw this product beside a different companies product that did not display a "Low in Cholesterol" claim, chances are you would naturally gravitate to the label that highlights a health benefit.
How the Claim should have been Displayed!
Because all 1% partly skimmed chocolate milk products on the market will inherently be low in cholesterol, the claim "Low in Cholesterol" must be further qualified with a statement such as "all 1% partly skimmed chocolate milk is low in cholesterol" . The claim, therefore, should have read:
- "Low in Cholesterol - all 1% partly skimmed chocolate milk is low in cholesterol".
1. Don't fall victim to claims that try to deem one product to be superior in terms of healthfulness or quality over another. Always refer to the list of ingredients and nutrition facts table for the facts. It's possible that although this claim was truthful and the product was in fact low in cholesterol, a competitive brand, that was also low in cholesterol, may also have been lower in sugars and/or contained less additives.
2. Try not to choose foods based on one criteria (e.g. amount of cholesterol, number of calories, amount of fat, etc.). You probably wouldn't buy a car based solely on the paint colour and you shouldn't choose foods based on a single attribute either. Try considering the entire composition of the product; which nutrients are you concerned with (it typically isn't just one), are there any ingredients you are trying to avoid? If the product doesn't meet your own personal criteria for healthful leave it on the shelf!
 &  Health Canada's Food and Drug Regulations, Table Following B.01.513, Items 19 & 28.
 Health Canada's Food and Drug Regulations, B.01.511(4)
Written by: Allison Jorgens - "Read it with a Grain of Salt" © 2012, Ontario, Canada