The release of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 on December 29, just as 2020 was concluding, was a welcome start to the new year for dairy. Those guidelines reaffirmed dairy as central to a healthy diet.
The guidelines, which influence government nutrition programs including the School Lunch and School Breakfast program, are updated twice each decade. These nutrition standards saw few changes from their previous iteration: Most importantly, three servings of low-fat and nonfat dairy continue to be recommended dietary patterns identified as crucial to optimal health.
New to the dietary guidelines
Dairy also featured in a new section of the guidelines, recommendations for infants and toddlers 0 to 23 months of age. Yogurt and cheese are suggested as complementary foods for infants 6 to 12 months, while 1.5 to two servings of dairy are recommended for toddlers 12 to 23 months, including whole milk. Other key findings include:
- Dairy was maintained in its own group, with only the inclusion of fortified soy beverages within the category, the same as previous guidelines and a recognition of dairy’s significantly different profile when compared to plant-based beverages.
- Following on that, the guidelines clearly state that plant-based “milks” are not included in the dairy group, as they do not have a similar overall nutritional content to milk and consuming them does not contribute to meeting the dairy group recommendation.
- The updated MyPlate website, which accompanies the report, lists the following nutrients being provided by the dairy group: calcium, phosphorus, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B12, riboflavin, protein, potassium, zinc, choline, magnesium, and selenium. MyPlate also highlights dairy’s role in building and maintaining strong bones.
- Among the nutrients of public health concern, dairy was listed as one of the recommended foods to increase intake to meet the recommendations for potassium, vitamin D, and calcium.
- Following the recommended dietary patterns, of which dairy is a crucial part, is linked to beneficial health outcomes for cardiovascular disease, overweight and obesity, Type 2 diabetes, bone health and certain types of cancer.
- About 90% of the U.S. population does not meet the dairy recommendations, according to the guidelines.
A shortfall in the update
The guidelines, while overwhelmingly positive for dairy, fell short by not recognizing newer science on dairy fats. That body of scientific work points to the neutral or beneficial effects that dairy fats can have. The National Milk Producers Federation is dedicated to continuing to work to get full-fat dairy recommended in the next iteration of the guidelines.
The guidelines conclude nearly two years of work that began in 2019 with the selection of its Scientific Advisory Committee, which drafts recommendations for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services. The guidelines will be updated again in 2025.