New Dietary Guidelines Reaffirm Dairy’s Critical Role in a Healthy Diet

Published: Dec. 29, 2020 - By: Taylor Leach

Every five years, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is reviewed to provide advice for consumers on what to eat and drink in order to meet their nutritional needs, promote a healthy lifestyle, and prevent certain diseases. On Dec. 29, 2020, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 edition was released and reaffirmed dairy’s critical role in a healthy diet.

The report, published by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS), was reviewed for nearly two years by a committee of science and nutrition experts. This year marked a historical event, as the 2020-2025 guidelines now include recommendations for children younger than two years of age for the first time.

According to the USDA and HHS, the newly reviewed recommendations mark dairy foods as an important part of a healthy diet for children from 6 months to 24 months of age. Additionally, from 12-23 months of age, the guidelines recommend “higher fat versions of dairy,” which includes consuming whole milk.

Other key updates regarding dairy include:

• Dairy remains a separate, distinct food group in recognition of its unrivaled health and nutrition benefits to people of all ages.

• The guidelines encourage most Americans to consume three servings of dairy per day. Dairy contains key nutrients that Americans should consume more of—also called “food components of public health concern”—including vitamin D, calcium, and potassium.

• A diet including low-fat and fat-free dairy is part of the ideal, healthy dietary pattern along with whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables.

• Small amounts of some foods, including dairy foods, are recommended for children beginning at 6-12 months of age and continuing thereafter as part of new recommendations for toddlers. In the second year of life, when calcium requirements increase, dairy products including milk, yogurt, and cheese provide a good source of calcium. The recommendations call for inclusion of higher fat versions of dairy, including whole milk, for toddlers ages 12 through 23 months, which can also help meet calcium, vitamin D and protein needs.

• The guidelines contain messages and data useful to combatting misinformation related to dairy. The guidelines state: “Consistent evidence demonstrates that a healthy dietary pattern [including low-fat and fat-free dairy] is associated with beneficial outcomes for all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, overweight and obesity, type 2 diabetes, bone health, and certain types of cancer (breast and colorectal).” Additionally, a healthy eating pattern for children from birth through 24 months—which includes the introduction of some dairy after 6 months—helps to “lower risk of asthma” for children.

Industry leaders applauded the release of the current dietary guidelines.

“USDA and HHS deserve praise for once again recognizing just how vital dairy is to the nation’s health and well-being,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of National Milk Producers Federation, in a press release. “We encourage them to affirm that role even more clearly in the next iteration of the Dietary Guidelines, to reflect the positive contribution of dairy fats in diets that’s increasingly recognized in a growing body of evidence.

“The panel’s recognition that dairy is a key source of ‘nutrients of concern’ in U.S. diets is especially important,” Mulhern added. “During a time of food insecurity and concerns about proper nutrition among Americans, dairy is a readily accessible solution to clearly identified public-health challenges. Dairy farmers work hard to be part of that solution, and the panel’s recognition of the nutritional importance of dairy is greatly appreciated.”

According to the USDA, dairy is an under consumed food category. However, increasing consumption of dairy will contribute to meeting the recommended intakes of protein, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and vitamins A and D, according the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

“The Dietary Guidelines confirm what the overwhelming body of science has been telling us for years—that dairy is one of the most nutritious foods available to people of all ages,” said Michael Dykes, D.V.M., president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association, in a press release. “So, pick up a glass of milk. Tear off the lid to your favorite yogurt. Cut off a piece of cheese. The scientists and experts agree that Americans need to consume more dairy to meet federal nutrition recommendations. We also applaud the federal government and the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee for making dairy central in new recommendations for children 6 through 24 months of age. Let’s build on this report to make dairy central in the diets of all Americans once again.”