America's Diet

March 1, 2011 10:48 PM
America's Diet

Bonus Content

More on the guidelines:

USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion

USDA Newsroom

National Dairy Council

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), released in late January, are good news for dairy producers.

The new guidelines are focused on reducing obesity in America, particularly in children, "through improved eating and physical behaviors."

The guidelines, which are published every five years by USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), note that more than one-third of children and more than two-thirds of adults in the U.S. are overweight or obese.

"These new and improved dietary recommendations give individuals the information to make thoughtful choices of healthier foods in the right portions and to complement those choices with physical activity," says USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The guidelines emphasize a total diet approach, urging Americans to reduce calories through smaller portion sizes, make more nutrient-rich diet choices and consume more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat or fat-free milk and dairy products.

The recommendations are intended as an integrated set of advice to achieve an overall healthy eating pattern. To get the full benefit, Americans should carry out the recommendations in their entirety, Vilsack says.

Some 85% of Americans fall short of the current dairy recommendations put forth by USDA and HHS. Dairy products fare well in these recommendations:

  • The new guidelines maintain the recommendation that children nine years of age and older, teenagers and adults consume three servings of dairy each day.
  • They increase the recommended servings of dairy for children from four to eight years of age to 2.5 per day, up from two servings per day.
  • They recognize that consuming milk and milk products can play a role in reducing cardiovascular problems, diabetes and high blood pressure in adults.

These are huge wins for the dairy industry, says Greg Miller, executive vice president of research, regulatory and scientific affairs for the National Dairy Council. "We were very happy with the way the dietary guidelines came out," he says. "They recognize the role that dairy products can play in providing nutrient-rich foods in everyone’s diet."

Milk provides three of the four nutrients the guidelines say are lacking in the American diet: vitamin D, calcium and potassium. It also provides 25% of the required protein, but only 13% of sodium.

The new guidelines present a huge opportunity to increase dairy consumption and sales. Currently, children aged nine to 18 consume 2.2 servings of dairy each day and adults consume only 1.6 servings.

Some quick math suggests that if the 250 million adults in the U.S. increased their milk consumption to recommended levels, milk sales would jump by 90 billion pounds per year.

For the first time, the guidelines recognize that dairy products can be part of the solution in improving the heart health of adults. "It will require a lot of education of health professionals and practicing dieticians to get this message out," Miller says. "But we now have the weight and
influence of USDA and HHS behind us in this effort."

Miller offers kudos to dairy pro-ducers for funding the research, through the dairy checkoff, that debunks the myths regarding dairy products and heart health, diabetes and blood pressure.

For those individuals with lactose intolerance, the guidelines still recommend dairy first to get required nutrients. The guidelines recommend eating smaller amounts, aged cheese (which is lower in lactose) and lactose-free products.

The elephant in the room, however, is flavored milk in the nation’s schools. USDA has not yet issued its final guidelines for flavored milk, though Miller suspects they will be released in time for the 2012/2013 school year.

Activists point to flavored milk in schools as a major contributor to obesity. Yet, in reality, only 3% of added sugar is coming from chocolate milk in kids’ diets, Miller says.

"The data says kids who are flavored-milk drinkers tend to drink more milk, don’t consume more calories, don’t weigh more than kids who don’t drink milk or flavored milk and don’t consume any more added sugars," he says. "Kids who drink flavored milks end up with a more nutrient-quality diet and drink less nutrient-poor sodas and fruit drinks."

One problem is that when you take flavored milk out of the schools, milk consumption drops 30% to 35%. "In schools where they tried to promote white milk because they had removed flavored milk, they were still down by 18% in terms of total consumption," Miller says.

Milk companies are working on reduced-sugar flavored milks, and more products should be available when the new USDA mandates are released. The problem is that these new formulations often cost more than current flavored milks, and that could become a hurdle to overcome as school food budgets are cut.

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