New research findings could be good news for dairy foods.

Emerging science shows that overall diet quality counts more for positive health outcomes than just single nutrients or the quantity of calories consumed. Healthy eating patterns that include high-quality foods like milk, cheese, and yogurt support good health.

Historically, dietary guidelines have recommended limiting single nutrients — fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium — because of their assumed link to heightened risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. As research advances and evolves, nutrition experts gain fresh insights into foods, their nutritional value, and how they interact with one another to provide additional health benefits. This new information is changing how experts talk about food and nutrition, and as a result, conversation around future dietary recommendations is beginning to shift toward an emphasis on overall food quality rather than single nutrients and calories consumed.

Under this model, whole and minimally processed foods are well-positioned as they provide a package of nutrients plus microbial and bioactive components, known as the food matrix, that work together to enhance health benefits. Dairy foods — along with fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, fish, lean meat, poultry, eggs, and healthy fats and oils — are high-quality foods through this lens.

Additionally, functional foods, which are foods that provide health benefits that go beyond the individual nutrients they contain, are noted for their nutrition and favorable health outcomes when consumed as part of a regular, healthy eating pattern. Examples of functional foods that deserve special attention are fermented foods like yogurt and kefir, which provide individual nutrients (protein, calcium, and potassium) along with naturally occurring components (probiotics) that enhance gut health and offer overall health benefits.

As healthy eating guidelines move beyond focusing on single nutrients, the opportunity exists for dairy foods, including milk, cheese, and yogurt, to continue to be a key component of future recommendations for healthy eating. What’s more, as nutrition experts gain new insights and understanding into how foods impact health and health outcomes, the agriculture community has an opportunity to educate children and families on the new science behind eating healthfully. That’s why Dairy Council of California recently launched the Let’s Eat Healthy movement, housed on

Let’s Eat Healthy is about uniting people and organizations — educators, health professionals, change-makers, and community leaders — to prioritize the health and health outcomes of children and families through coordination, collaboration, and co-creation. And while nutrition science is evolving, our commitment to elevating health has not wavered. We invite you to join the movement at

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July 23, 2020
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