Whether walking down a grocery aisle, flipping between television channels or using social media, information on nutrition is easy to come by—but knowing what is credible, science-based and worthy of dairy communities’ attention is a more difficult task. At a time when consumers have more choices and information than ever, it’s critical for the dairy community to anticipate trends in order to sustain dairy’s role in a healthy diet.
That’s why, twice a year, Dairy Council of California issues a “trends report” to update the dairy community and health leaders on emerging issues likely to impact the dairy industry within the next one to three years. The trends tracking system is designed to identify issues early and follow their development to help dairy companies, producers and processors plan for the future. The Fall 2018 Trends Report looks at four topics supported by science that are shaping the nutrition landscape.
Dairy Foods Have Expanding Health Benefits for All Age Groups
While milk is commonly thought of as an important food for children that helps build strong bones, research continues to find additional health benefits for all ages. A recent study published by The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal, linked high consumption of dairy with a reduced risk of major cardiovascular disease and stroke—important findings as cardiovascular disease and obesity statistics remain high in the United States.
The research linking milk and dairy food intake to positive health outcomes in children and their families must continue to be leveraged by the dairy community in a way that resonates with consumers and health professionals alike.
Health Outcomes Are Tied to Overall Eating Patterns
In nature, nothing happens in isolation, and the nutrients within a food work the same way. Nutrition experts agree that overall diet quality matters more than calorie count or single nutrients, and research is uncovering the benefits of the food matrix—the complex structure of nutrients—and their benefits on overall health.
More specifically, the effect of the food matrix was recently studied by looking at the unique structure of nutrients found in dairy foods, including saturated and unsaturated fats, vitamin K, calcium, potassium and probiotics. Among the conclusions was that nutritional values of dairy products should be based on how the nutrients act together within dairy food structures rather than on calories or nutrient content alone.
Research shows better health outcomes are associated with nutrient-dense foods that are less processed and lower in added sugars. The good news is that dairy foods like milk, cheese and yogurt are wholesome foods that are positively associated with diet quality. Milk and dairy foods play an important role in healthy eating patterns, offering a unique combination of nutrients for children and families. Dairy producers can encourage consumption of these under-consumed foods, specifically milk and dairy, to help close the nutrient gaps that exist among Americans of all ages.
Plant-Based Eating Patterns Gain Support
Support for plant-based eating patterns is continuing to grow as institutional food systems like those at hospitals and schools incorporate more plant-based food offerings. Plant-based eating patterns, or diets that focus on foods primarily from plants, should not necessarily eliminate all animal protein. Although the health benefits of consuming more vegetables, fruits, whole grains and plant-based proteins are well-founded, milk and dairy foods, as well as animal protein, offer an important and unique combination of nutrients not found in plant-based foods. As plant-based food offerings continue to grow, helping consumers, especially families with young children, know the importance of including nutrient-dense dairy foods in their diets is essential.
The Connection Between Sustainability and Nutrition Is Gaining Traction
Due to the rapidly changing global landscape, every sector of society plays a role in sustainability. Sustainable nutrition is a topic with international importance, as countries around the world are faced with addressing the triple burden of malnutrition, obesity and micronutrient deficiencies while protecting natural resources. In fact, the United Nations launched the Sustainable Development Goals, which include ending hunger, improving health and well-being and promoting sustainable agriculture.
At every level, there is an intricate link between health and sustainable food systems. Moving into the future, it is inevitable that nutrition recommendations and guidelines will integrate sustainability. For the dairy community, focusing on the nutritional qualities of dairy foods and the improvements within the industry related to sustainability is a way to strike a balance among nourishing people, caring for animals and sustaining the environment. A successful approach to achieving sustainable nutrition should encompass all aspects of the agri-food chain and be grounded in nutrition science to protect the health of the planet, the population and the individual.
While trends reports guide Dairy Council of CA’s nutrition education programs, they are also meant to empower the dairy industry with credible, science-backed research. Through the support of dairy farm families and processors, Dairy Council of CA has been able to stay on top of nutrition trends that ultimately help the organization elevate the health of families and children through the lifelong pursuit of healthy eating habits.
Note: For a full list of citations used to develop this column, view the Fall 2018 Trends Report.