Good News for Dairy, Good News for Science

Michelle Slimko, DrPH, MPH, RD SVP, Environmental & Nutrition Research National Dairy Council

The main takeaway for dairy foods following the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s (DGAC) scientific report is that National Dairy Council (NDC) and the science behind dairy’s role in nutrition and health remains strong, leading to good news for the dairy community and for consumers.

Michelle Slimko

The DGAC released its scientific report on July 15 and serves as the science-based recommendation for USDA and Health and Human Services (HHS) to form the final 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs), which is expected later this year. Of note, the DGA is the foundation of federal food assistance programs such as school meals representing 12.7 billion pounds of milk equivalents distributed through these programs (USDA data, 2018).

The DGAC’s recommendations maintain dairy’s important role as a food group and in healthy eating patterns. Many people don’t meet the recommended daily dairy servings. Because dairy’s nutrition can be hard to replace with other foods for similar calories and price, it is important to help people meet their daily dairy recommendations.

It’s reassuring to see science holds firm in forming the recommendations, especially given the delicate atmosphere of the global nutrition dialogue. Some countries moved toward only recommending two daily servings of dairy, while others, such as Canada, removed the dairy group. The report is a win for continued science-based dietary guidelines, and the dairy checkoff investment in peer-reviewed science on dairy’s role in nutrition, health and sustainable food systems.

There are two core areas I’d like to spotlight:

  1. Introducing dairy at 6 months can start a lifetime of healthy eating
    : For the first time, the recommendations include birth to 24-months (B-24), and the DGAC stated that dietary patterns linked to positive health outcomes include nutrient-rich animal-based foods, including dairy. Yogurt and cheese are recommended as complementary foods for infants starting at 6 months and recommended food patterns for toddlers 12-24 months include 1.5 to 2 daily servings of dairy foods (e.g., whole milk, yogurt, reduced-fat cheese – which aligns with American Academy of Pediatrics guidance). The B-24 period is a formative time for growth and development, including brain and cognitive function. Having dairy foods as part of recommended foods starting at 6 months sends an educational message to moms about the importance of dairy foods in their child’s diet and health. Early introduction to dairy foods may lead to lifelong healthy eating habits that include dairy foods.
  2. The evidence for dairy and bone health is strengthened: While evidence on healthy eating patterns that include dairy and bone health has been noted as strong for children, the committee also determined the evidence for adults was strengthened, showing dairy’s nutritional value for bone health, including reduced risk of hip fracture. This is significant because anti-dairy groups often share misinformation about dairy’s role in bone health, yet the DGAC experts have affirmed dairy’s importance in bone health.

Future recommendations from the DGAC for the next DGAs (2025) include a focus on sustainable food systems and whole foods versus targeting fat as a single nutrient, for example. This validates the dairy community’s research on whole milk and the work in sustainable nutrition and environmental sustainability.

The shift to more fat flexibility is already happening in the real world as demonstrated by the actions of consumers and thought leaders:

  • According to IRI data as of June 2020, 70% of households purchased whole milk over the last 52 weeks (ending 6-14-2020), the highest of any fat level for milk. (Note that not all fat levels were available during peak COVID weeks; whole- and reduced-fat products were prioritized.)
    • Whole milk has increased its volume share of milk. In 2020, whole milk holds 41% share, the largest of any fat level.
  • Health and wellness professionals and health authorities are starting to embrace fat flexibility for dairy foods such as Joslin Diabetes Center, the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Australian Heart Foundation.

The scientific rigor that NDC’s research leadership exhibits during each 5-year DGA process is unparalleled. Thirteen different public comments were submitted with detailed scientific substantiation for areas like heart health, diabetes, child nutrition, lactose intolerance, B-24, older adults, whole- and reduced-fat dairy foods. A total of 581 scientific references were reviewed and cited to put forth these strong evidence-based comments in support of dairy’s contributions to nutrition and health. This level of thoroughness would not be possible without dairy farmers’ investment in research.

As a next step, NDC will provide additional science-based perspective on the DGAC report during the final public comment period in August. Focus areas include how whole- and reduced-fat dairy foods fit into healthy eating patterns, including the dairy matrix to convey dairy’s unique attributes as a whole food as well as dairy’s contributions to food and nutrition security to meet diverse needs.

 





 

In the meantime, we’ll continue to look toward the future to how dairy farmers’ investment in research will propel us to meet the future needs of people, communities and the planet.

To learn more about your national dairy checkoff, visit www.USDairy.com or send a request to join our Dairy Checkoff Farmer Group on Facebook. To reach us directly, send an email to TalkToTheCheckoff@dairy.org

Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s (DGAC) scientific report link here.

 





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