The inspiration for a checkoff-led research project sometimes begins during a basic roundtable brainstorm session among my National Dairy Council (NDC) colleagues.
There’s never a time when we don’t have several dairy-focused research projects in the pipeline, whether they’re done internally here at NDC or in partnership externally with a university or other reputable group. Over the years, our talented NDC team, which includes several doctorate-level members, has led or funded hundreds of research projects. We’ve examined dairy’s role in Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, inflammation, protein nutrition, child nutrition, bone health, and much more.
Whole milk a major focus
Another key focus area for us — one we know is important to farmers — is whole milk dairy research. We stay engaged on whole milk projects on a consistent basis. In fact, I’m proud to share some results that began when we all gathered around the table a few years ago.
Our discussion focused on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, which recommended consuming low-fat or fat-free dairy foods due to concerns about energy and saturated fat intake. It also recommended consuming no more than 10 percent of daily calories from saturated fat.
So, we began as we always do — with our research objective. For this project, it was to assess the impact of replacing one serving of fat-free dairy foods in the dietary guideline’s Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern with one serving of whole or reduced-fat milk, cheese, or yogurt. We hypothesized that a replacement would keep the U.S.-Style Eating Pattern within calorie, saturated fat, and sodium limits.
Our team went to work, and we ultimately reached a conclusion that’s very positive for dairy. Our study provides evidence that Americans can consume a whole- or reduced-fat dairy food as one of their three recommended servings of dairy while staying within recommendations for sodium, saturated fat, and calories, especially if the whole- or reduced-fat food selected is milk.
Research efforts such as this go through a peer-review to ensure credibility and quality. The entire project was published by a reputable nutrition journal that is a go-to resource for scientists as well as health and nutrition professionals.
NDC used this research during the public comment period leading to the formation of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, which was published in December. We also shared it with our industry colleagues to use in their efforts related to whole milk dairy foods.
While saturated fat recommendations remained the same in this version of the dietary guidelines, there is new language that had not appeared in previous dietary guidelines. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 states that “most choices” of dairy should be fat-free or low-fat, indicating some flexibility as our aforementioned research had concluded.
There is growing consumer acceptance of whole milk products, with this segment earning 41% market share in 2020, the largest of any milkfat level.
Our whole milk dairy research is just part of the picture. NDC’s research efforts will continue working to validate the important role of dairy foods in a healthy diet.