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Sugar in Milk

There is a great deal of concern lately about the amount of sugar we eat and rightly so. High sugar consumption is not consistent with a healthy diet. Consumers should become educated on the sources of sugar in their diet and learn to strike the right balance between nutrients and sugar intake.

Some low-sugar diets claim to promote weight loss and even recommend eliminating all sugar, even the natural sugars found in fruit. Most consumers can see the folly in this idea. A balanced diet that includes food from all five food groups is a basic starting point to healthy eating.

But what about the sugars in milk and dairy foods? How much sugar is in milk and is it healthy or not?

We have to start with a lesson in label reading. All milk contains natural sugar. The label pictured to the right is for 1% low-fat milk. You see on the label it has 14 grams of sugars. This is the 100% natural sugar found in milk as it comes from the cow—no sugar is added. This sugar is called lactose.

If you are worried that the lactose in milk and dairy foods may increase your risk of type 2 diabetes, you can take this worry off your list. A growing body of research indicates that dairy may play a protective role against type 2 diabetes, particularly in those who consume low-fat dairy foods. Milk components such as whey, calcium, vitamin D, fatty acids and/or lactose are thought to help out with sugar metabolism.

Chocolate Milk

With the childhood obesity crisis top of mind for many, flavored milk has come under fire for its sugar content. Some have examined the flavored milk food label and misinterpret what they read, making the claim that flavored milk has as much sugar as soda. Here is what you need to know to correctly read a milk food label:

  • All milk (flavored and unflavored) has the sugar lactose in it. In an eight-ounce glass of milk you will find 12 grams of lactose.
  • Chocolate milk has between 8 and 12 additional grams of sugar added. So, about one-half of the sugar in chocolate milk is naturally-occurring lactose found in all milk.
  • Only about 60 calories in chocolate milk are from added sugars, which is small relative to the powerhouse of nutrients it provides.

It has been confirmed that children who drink flavored milk 1) drink more milk overall, 2) have better quality diets, 3) do not have higher intakes of added sugar or total fat, and 4) are just as likely to have a healthy body composition as children who do not consume flavored milk.1,2 That is why health organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics approve of flavored milk in children’s diets.  

With such a relatively small amount of calories coming from added sugars, chocolate milk offers a powerhouse of nutrients important for children’s growth and development, and for athletes recovering from sporting events.

Note: Always read the food labels from your local dairy since chocolate milk formulas vary between processors.



1 Frary CD, Johnson, RK, Wang MQ. Journal of Adolescent Health 2004;34, 56-63.

2 Murphy MM et al. J Amer Diet Assoc 2008;108:631-9.

Why it is Important to Include Milk, Cheese and Yogurt in Your Diet

Milk is one of the most nutrient-dense food sources available relative to the calories it provides. In the United States, milk and dairy foods contribute only a small proportion of the total calories to the diet (10 percent), yet in terms of nutrient requirements, they contribute1:
  • 51 percent of calcium
  • 58 percent of vitamin D
  • 28 percent of both phosphorus and vitamin A
  • 26 percent of vitamin B12
  • 25 percent of riboflavin
  • 15–30 percent of protein

Milk and dairy foods have an irreplaceable package of nutrients that cannot be found in any other single food or beverage. Learn more about all the nutrients in milk and dairy foods in the milk and dairy section of our website.

1Dairy Research Institute – NHANES 2003-06; age 2+ years. From: World Dairy Summit 2012 Presentation: Dairy Nutrition and Environmental Sustainability: Setting the Record Straight. Original source:


There are a wide variety of yogurts to meet both your health and taste preferences. All yogurts contain natural sugar (just like milk). Some also include added sugar or sweeteners.

If you are trying to reduce the added sugars in your diet, select the unsweetened varieties. Fruit makes a great addition to yogurt to add sweetness and ramp up the fiber. Yogurts with artificial sweeteners are also widely available. 

Click here to learn more about yogurt.