The U.S. dairy industry will be watching intently to see what USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) decides about dairy in the soon-to-be released Dietary Guidelines. It appears whole milk or maybe even butterfat in general, which is gaining favor with dietary experts, will be at the top of food products to be examined.
“Once every five years, Congress undertakes a process to better understand healthy eating,” says Sara Dorland, analyst with the Daily Dairy Report and managing partner at Ceres Dairy Risk Management, Seattle. “After the committee listens to health experts, USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services are charged with releasing the latest version of the Dietary Guidelines by the end of the year. This document contains recommendations that are meant to steer consumers toward better food choices that hopefully lead to a healthier population. However, these recommendations also form the backbone of policy related to food stamps and school lunch programs, so the food industry has quite a bit at stake.”
Each time the guidelines are up for renewal, the various stakeholders begin jockeying for a share of the consumer stomach by getting their products included in larger volume on the pyramid, or in case of the pending guidelines, the plate.
“This year saturated fats and their relationship to heart disease is one area under the microscope,” notes Dorland. “Two dairy products, whole milk and butter, top the list when people ask whether the experts got it wrong in the past and whether saturated fat really leads to heart disease,” says Dorland.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, with 610,000 people dyingfrom the disease every year in the United States—one in every four deaths. Coronary heart disease, the most common type of heart disease, kills 370,000 people every year in the United States. The disease has been linked to a build-up of plaque (or cholesterol) in the coronary arteries, which is thought to be caused, in part, by too much saturated fat in the diet, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“Since 1977, the United States dietary guidelines suggested Americans lessen their consumption of saturated fats by reducing intake of foods like butter, whole milk, beef, and other red meats to decrease their chances of heart disease,” notes Dorland. “U.S. consumers responded by dropping their intake of whole milk and increasing their consumption of lower-fat milks.”
However, some studies today debunk the link between some saturated fat intake—including the fat in whole milk—and coronay artery disease. For example, a recent Washington Post article citing a July 2015 review by a British medical journal states, “Saturated fats are not associated with mortality, heart disease, strokes, or type 2 diabetes.” Recent research from New Zealand also could not detect a significant connection between the consumption of higher amounts of dairy fat and high levels of LDL, or bad, cholesterol, according to the Washington Post article.
“The complicating factor for Congress will be boiling down the very dense health recommendations into simple guidelines that most American can understand,” says Dorland. “For instance, some experts believe that some foods with saturated fats, like whole milk, may increase LDL, or bad, cholesterol levels in the blood, while other experts believe dairy fat could increase the presence of HDL, or good, cholesterol and other nutrients, which could be a mitigating factor.”
These studies point out that the presence of a single not-so-good nutrient may not be justification to categorically eliminate a product from the Dietary Guidelines or one’s diet, she says. And health experts are asking Congress to be diligent about making recommendations on macronutrients—such as carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
“It appears that for whatever reason, U.S. consumers may be ahead of the curve,” Dorland adds. “Whole milk and butter consumption have been increasing this year.”
Read more on whole milk here.
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