Federal dietary guidelines are not always factored in when individual people make diet choices for themselves or their family. However, what guidelines do provide are a starting place for consumers to learn about proper nutrition and, most importantly, standards for the items provided in government feeding programs, including school meals and food assistance programs like Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
That’s what makes it critical for dairy to be emphasized in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) and retain or improve that status when the DGAs are updated every five years. Katie Brown, executive vice president of scientific and nutrition affairs for the National Dairy Council, stated during a panel discussion at the World Dairy Summit that 15.6 billion pounds of dairy went through feeding programs in the 2022 fiscal year.
Work is already underway for the next round of updates in 2025, which could look a little different as this is the first time that the panel will evaluate dietary guidelines in other countries when deciding how to shape U.S. food policy. The panel at the Summit, held in Chicago last month, showcased what some dietary policies around the world look like and offered valuable perspective to the Americans in the room.
The conference is the annual gathering of the International Dairy Federation, and that group has been surveying nutrition guidelines around the world. Erica Hocking, a senior nutrition specialist with Dairy U.K., explained that they have looked at 106 countries, and they all include dairy in their guidelines to some degree. Most make dairy its own food group, but others have it in a category for “animal sourced” or “protein” foods, while a few lump dairy into a category with eggs.
More than half of the countries they have looked at recommend somewhere between 0.5 and 3 servings of dairy per day, but Hocking noted that many are less specific. Not all countries include dairy in their key nutrition messages, and some even highlight that dairy is a food to limit in the diet.
For example, Merete Myrup explained that the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations that set standards for Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Greenland still recommend dairy every day, but only at a rate of 350 to 500 milliliters. There is a negative focus on animal foods partially due to greater emphasis on sustainability, described Myrup, who serves as director of dairy nutrition for the Danish Agricultural and Food Council.
That amount of dairy would provide roughly 450 milligrams of calcium, she explained. However, the recommendations also want teenagers to get 1,150 milligrams of calcium each day — a challenging shortfall to make up when more dairy is not advised.
This is not just a problem across the ocean, though. The DGA committee can look to one of our closest neighbors and top trading partners for a similar approach.
In Mexico, obesity, hypertension, and diabetes are serious concerns, and very few people actually consume the recommended amount of the food groups, said Brenda Valenciano Martínez. The country adopted new dietary guidelines earlier this year in the hopes of addressing these issues, continued Martínez, a registered dietician with a dairy processor in Mexico.
A significant player in those discussions was the EAT-Lancet Report, which categorizes foods as good or bad for the planet. As a result, the Mexican dietary guidelines now recommend more plant-based foods and less red meat, explained Martínez. Dairy remains on the “healthy plate” image and is part of the “animal sourced” food group, but there are no details on the number of recommended servings. In fact, the guidelines tell Mexicans to avoid consuming animal products every day.
Over the course of this year and next, Brown explained that some of the topics the DGA committee will evaluate as they form the 2025 edition are saturated fat, health equity, lactose intolerance, ultraprocessed foods, and even what the dairy food group contains. She also noted that sustainability came up in the 2015 and 2020 discussions but ultimately was not included. That could change this time around since it is included in dietary guidelines in other countries.
“We must continue to invest in research so we ensure dairy’s place in food based dietary guidelines,” Brown said. There is no promise that new U.S. dietary guidelines will follow those of other countries and limit dairy, but taking those standards into account may shift the discussion in a way it hasn’t before. This is something the industry will keep an eye on as the process moves forward.