Just like Vegemite and tomato sauce, chocolate drinks are staples in the Aussie pantries. Kids love them and they provide a chance to get another serve of milk in. Milo has been in the news recently as Nestle has conceded to reduce the label’s 4.5 Health Star Rating (based on making up Milo with milk) down to the 1.5 stars it deserves for what you get in the tin. We know these powders are full of sugar but how bad are they really? And is there a healthier choice than Milo?
How healthy is Milo? And how does it compare to other chocolate powders?
When we wonder how good these drinks really are, what we really want to know is how much sugar is in them. The World Health Organisation recommends that we limit our intake of added sugars to no more than 6 teaspoons a day. Not only does the amount of added sugar vary between products, but also the type of sweetener used. Brands often add sweeteners, like stevia, sugar alcohols and aspartame to claim they are low sugar, or sugar-free. While swapping to these sugar alternatives gets around the issue of added sugars, they may not actually be that healthy.
Sugar alcohols (like erythritol) aren’t really a sugar (or alcohol!). They taste very sweet, but they don’t stick to our teeth like sugar, and we don’t absorb them very well. You get the taste, without the energy and with limited effect on blood sugars. Stevia is a herb that is much, much sweeter than sugar so only small amounts are needed. The trouble is, both stevia and sugar alcohols this means they can cause some discomfort like gas, bloating or diarrhea. Individual tolerance varies, so watch your portions. Children are typically being more sensitive to the digestive upset.
If you’re reducing sugar for weight loss, some studies show that switching to alternative sweeteners doesn’t actually help. Research into the safety and long-term use of stevia, sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners is still ongoing as they are fairly new additions to our foods. There is some early evidence suggesting they aren’t actually healthier than sugar, they’re just not sugar. We need to wait for more research in this area to know for sure.
Whichever sweeteners you chose to eat, remember the bigger picture. It’s your total intake that counts and the variety of wholefoods that you eat in a day, a week and a year that really contributes to your health. The type of sweetener in a chocolate drink shouldn’t make a difference if you’re only having it now and again.
Here is a round-up of 14 common chocolate powdered milks available at Coles and Woolworths. First is their ingredients, then scroll down for a comparison table.
Chocolate powders are just a mix of sweeteners (cane sugar, stevia, alcohol sugars or artificial sweeteners), cocoa and sometimes added vitamins and minerals. I have changed the text colour the vitamins and minerals so you can easily see them in comparison to the other ingredients. Fortification with vitamins and minerals is helpful for people who could be elderly or unwell who may rely on drinks to boost their nutritional intake. I don’t recommend relying on these drinks as a boost for fussy eaters. It can reduce their appetite making family foods even less appealing.
Abundant Earth Organic Drinking Chocolate
Organic sugar, organic cocoa powder (23%), organic skim milk powder, natural flavour.
Sugar, Cocoa, (17%) Barley Malt Extract, Calcium Phosphate, Ferric Pyrophosphate, Calcium Ascorbate, Nicotinamide, Riboflavin, Thiamine Mononitrate, Retinyl Acetate, Folic Acid, Cholecalciferol.
Erythritol, Cocoa (Soy Lecithin), Natural Flavour, Stevia Extract, Salt.
Cadbury Drinking Chocolate
Sugar, Cocoa Powder, Starch (Maize or Tapioca), Mineral Salt (501), Flavour.
Natvia Natural Sweetener (Erythritol, Steviol Glycosides), Cocoa (11%), Emulsifier (Soy Lecithin), Minerals (Calcium, Magnesium, Iron), Salt, Vitamins (C, B1, B2, A).
Jarrah Hot Choc
Milk Solids, Cocoa (18%), Glucose Solids, Vegetable Fat and Oil, Salt, Mineral Salts (341, 340, 451, 452), Vegetable Gum (415), Sweetener (951), Flavour, Emulsifiers (471 or 472c, 481, 322 (Soy)), Anticaking Agent (551), Colour (160A).
Wheat Flour, Malted Barley (15%), Dried Whey, Mineral (Calcium Carbonate), Sugar, Vegetable Fat, Dried Skimmed Milk, Salt, Acidity Regulator (Potassium Bicarbonate).
Extract of Malt Barley (16%) Or Malt Barley and Rice (Total Extract 35%), Milk Solids, Sugar, Cocoa, Minerals (Calcium, Iron), Maltodextrin (Corn), Vitamins (C, B3, A, B6, D, B2, B12), Emulsifier (Soy Lecithin). Contains Gluten, Milk and Soy.
Milo Lower Sugar
Extract of malt barley (33%), milk solids, soluble corn fibre, cocoa, minerals (calcium, iron), maltodextrin (corn), vitamins (c, b3, b6, b2, d, b12), emulsifier (soy lecithin), sweetener [steviol glycosides (stevia)].
Milo Plant Based
Extract of malt barley or malt barley and rice (total extract 44%), cocoa, soluble corn fibre, soy protein isolate, sunflower oil, oat flour, minerals (calcium, iron, zinc), sugar, maltodextrin (corn), vitamins (c, b3, b6, b2, d, b12), flavour.
Extract of malt barley or malt barley and rice (total extract 38%), milk solids, cocoa, sugar, minerals (calcium, iron), emulsifier (soy lecithin), maltodextrin (corn), flavour, vitamins (c, b3, b6, b2, d, b12).
Cane Sugar, Cocoa, Emulsifier (Soy Lecithin), Spice (Cinnamon).
Milk Solids (45%), Malt and Barley Extract (27%), Glucose Solids, Cocoa (7%) (Contains Soy Lecithin), Vegetable Oil, Mineral Salts (341 or 340, 451, 452, 500, Iron Pyrophosphate), Flavours (Contains Wheat), Salt, Xanthan Gum, Sugar, Emulsifier (471 or 472c, 481), Sweetener (951), Anticaking Agent (551), Colour (160a).
Republica Drinking Chocolate
Natural sweetener (erythritol), organic fair trade cocoa powder (23%), natural flavour, vegetable gum, salt.
Cane Sugar, Tapioca Starch, Cocoa Powder, Maize Maltodextrin, Flavour, Sweetener (Sucralose).
Non Fat Milk Solids (51%), Sugar, Corn Syrup Solids, Cocoa (6%) (Contains Soy Lecithin), Whey Protein Concentrate (Milk, Soy Lecithin), Whole Milk Powder (Soy Lecithin), Flavour, Lactose (Milk ), Vitamins (Sodium Ascorbate, Tocopheryl Acetate, Niacinamide, Retinyl Acetate, Cyanocobalamin, Thiamin Hydrochloride, Folic Acid), Minerals (Ferrous Sulphate, Zinc Sulphate).
Vitarium Du Chocolat
Natvia Natural Sweetener (Erythritol, Steviol Glycosides), Cocoa (10%), Emulsifier (Soy Lecithin), Salt
The verdict: As with most packaged foods, going with the simplest ingredients list is usually a good start. None of the ingredients used above are dangerous, but eating foods with long ingredients lists too often, usually isn’t good for your long term health.
Now that we’ve seen what’s in these drinks, we need to find out just how much sugar is in it, using the nutrition information panel.
Obviously sugar is the main nutrient we’re looking for with these chocolate powdered drinks. I’ve also included some information on sodium for those that need it, but one that was high.
|Brand||Sugars / 100g||Sodium / 100g||Sweeteners||Added Vitamins + Minerals|
|Abundant Earth Organic Classic||69.5g||69mg||Sugar||None|
|Akta-Vite||32.9g||11mg||Sugar||Vit A, B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, C, folate, calicum, magnesium, iron, zinc, potassium|
|Avalanche Sugar Free||0.1g||110mg||Erythritol|
|Cadbury Drinking Chocolate||77g||4mg||Sugar||None|
|Fangks Sugar Free||12.5g||43mg||Erythritol|
|Vit A, B1, B2, C, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron|
|Jarrah Hot Choc||2.6g||69mg||Aspartame||None|
|Milo||46.4g||120mg||Sugar||Vit A, B2, B3, B6, B12, C, D, Calcium + Iron|
|Ovaltine Lasting Energy||44g||110mg||Sugar||Vit B2, B3, B6, B12, C, D Calcium, Iron, Phosphorus|
|Republica Drinking Chocolate||0.1g||140mg||Erythritol||None|
|Sustagen||54g||240mg||Sugar||Vit A, B1, B2, B3, B12, C, E, Calcium, Iron + Zinc|
|Vitarium Du Chocolat||0.1g||68mg||Erythritol|
|Milo Plant Based||27g||120mg||Sugar||Vit B3, B6, B2, C, D, B12, Calcium, Iron, Zinc|
|Milo XTRA||38.8g||140g||Sugar||Vit B3, B6, B2, C, D, B12|
|Milo 30% less sugar||30.1g||135mg||Stevia||Vit B3, B6, B2, C D, B12, Calcium, Iron|
Which is the best chocolate powdered drink?
There is no clear winner here, as none of these options are a staple health food. They’re all an option to have sometimes as a sweet treat or perhaps to make milk more enjoyable (again, only sometimes). While I can’t pick a winner, I can narrow it down to help you chose one.
Avalanche and Vitarium had the least sugar, but they relied on sugar alcohols and stevia. So while these drinks won’t contribute to your daily sugar intake, they may cause some tummy troubles and aren’t a great choice for kids. They also have a strange sweetness that some people (like me) just don’t like. Don’t forget that we don’t have a lot of research about their use as a sugar replacement in the long term, especially for children. So cutting down on sweetened foods generally is a better strategy than just switching.
Lowest Sugar without sweetener
Of those made with regular cane sugar, Akta Vite, Horlicks, Ovaltine and Milo had the least sugar. Although still very high, I liked that they were under 50% sugar (compared to Nesquick being 80% sugar!).
Added vitamins and minerals
Again, these aren’t essential in a drink we only have occasionally, but if you like the idea of a nutritive boost, then Akta Vite, Ovaltine, Milo varieties, Fagnks and Sustagen get another tick.
Which one of these you decide to have in your pantry depends on what the rest of your diet looks like. If you rarely have any added sugars (and be realistic when you consider this) and you don’t have it often, then go for your favourite. None of these drinks are <em>healthy</em> but you can find one to fit into your diet in small amounts. Consider how often you are buying tins of powdered drinks. If it’s more than once a fortnight, you’ll need to focus on cutting down as well as choosing one with less sugar.
We have a tin of regular Milo in our pantry. Our family enjoys the taste, we use it sparingly and don’t have it every day. I like that it is fortified and not the highest in sugar. I wish there was a lower sugar Milo that didn’t use stevia though (nothing wrong with stevia, I just really dislike the taste). I’d love to know which one you decide is the best for your family and if this information has changed your choice!
If you’re now wondering what milk to mix up your chocolate powder with, you can’t beat good old cow’s milk for nutrition and price. If you prefer a plant milk, check out my comparison to make sure you’re choosing a healthy replacement. Many plant milks aren’t the healthy option they seem.
Sarah Moore is a mum, and university qualified Registered Nutritionist with a decade of experience working with families to improve their health and well-being. Sarah has a simplistic and practical approach to family nutrition and can help the overwhelm of eating and living well with private consultations, email Q&A and her school lunchbox ebook. You can also find her on Facebook and Instagram for more healthy tips and tricks.