With the official release of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 last week, federal nutrition standards have been set for the next five years. Dairy enjoys five big wins in this edition, said Katie Brown, a registered dietitian and vice president of scientific affairs and outreach with the National Dairy Council, on the January 6 Hoard’s Dairyman DairyLivestream.
As background, Brown first explained the magnitude that these guidelines have on dairy consumption, since they set the requirements for dairy products distributed through school meals, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
“In fiscal year 2019, the federal feeding programs distributed 10.7 billion pounds of milk, 684 million pounds of cheese, and 662 million pounds of yogurt and other dairy foods,” she shared. When compared to annual U.S. milk produced, these numbers mean that roughly 10% of milk must meet the federal dietary standards.
“It’s good for dairy farmers to know that the dietary guidelines are grounded in sound science,” Brown said. “Thanks to dairy farmer’s checkoff investment in nutrition research, the outcome for dairy’s role in nutrition and health is once again reaffirmed in the latest dietary guidelines.”
1. Own food group
Dairy’s first achievement in the updated guidelines is that it remains a standalone food group. While it might seem easy to take that identification for granted, Brown pointed out that there are countries where this is not the case. Canada would be one example of such.
Further, in some other countries, dairy recommendations are for only one or two servings per day. In the U.S. dietary guidelines, three servings of dairy each day remain a key recommendation in a healthy American adult eating pattern, thanks to milk’s powerful nutritional package.
2. Healthy life
Secondly, the science-backed dietary guideline recommendations are linked to positive health benefits across a person’s lifespan. “The dietary guidelines review of the science showed that healthy eating patterns, which include low-fat and fat-free milk and dairy foods, are linked to beneficial outcomes for all-cause mortality: cardiovascular disease, overweight and obesity, Type 2 diabetes, bone health, and certain types of cancer,” Brown said.
That means following the suggested eating patterns — including dairy — reduces the chances of dying from many common illnesses. “Really, you can’t think of much more influential factors on our overall health and wellbeing than what we’re eating,” Brown emphasized.
3. All milks are not equal
The dietary guidelines are clear that alternative “milk” beverages do not compare to the nutritional value of milk. “Dairy stands alone because it’s tough to match its nutrient package elsewhere,” Brown said.
“As in past editions of the dietary guidelines, the only dairy alternative recognized by the guidelines is soy beverage. Other plant-based milk alternatives are not included in the dairy group because their overall nutritional content doesn’t stack up,” she mentioned.
Although it is very disappointing to see soy drinks approved, keep in mind that these products have been losing market share. Almond and oat beverages are gaining more traction with consumers that do choose to replace milk, described Cornell University’s Andy Novakovic, yet there is no nutritional support for them in these guidelines.
4. Young children
For the first time, guidelines are included for children from birth to 23 months. Included in those recommendations is the option to provide cheese and yogurt to infants as young as 6 months old.
“Now, new moms will be associating this critical time in their child’s brain development and physical growth with nutrients found in dairy foods,” Brown said.
5. Flexibility on full fat
The guidelines recommend consumption of low-fat and fat-free dairy products “most often.” While no additional allowances were made for full-fat dairy, Brown explained that the guidelines maintain that 10% of total calories can be received from foods with additional saturated fats. Fuller fat dairy can fit into this category.
“We are continuing to invest in science on dairy at all fat levels to contribute to the growing evidence on this topic, and our hope is there will be more acceptance of the growing preponderance of evidence on full-fat dairy in the scientific community,” Brown stated.
She concluded by noting the work done to promote dairy’s research with stakeholders. “We are and will continue to be sharing the good news for dairy in the latest edition of the dietary guidelines, with farmers across the country, with scientists, with health professionals, and with consumers,” she said.
An ongoing series of events
The next broadcast of DairyLivestream will be on Wednesday, January 20 at 11 a.m. CST. Each episode is designed for panelists to answer over 30 minutes of audience questions. If you haven’t joined a DairyLivestream broadcast yet, register here. Registering once registers you for all future events.