Uncle Sam Sports A Low-fat Milk Moustache

Low-fat and low-sodium dairy foods fare favorably in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) released jointly on Jan. 31 by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Washington, D.C. The guidelines are designed to help Americans make healthier food choices and confront the obesity epidemic.

The federal government recommends that Americans increase their intake of low-fat and fat-free dairy products to reach three servings of dairy for adults, two and one-half servings of dairy for children between the ages of four and eight (an increase from two servings a day) and two servings for children ages two and three.

The DGA recommends consumers switch to fat-free or low-fat milk, avoid oversized portions, fill half the dinner plate with fruits and vegetables, be mindful of sodium intake and drink water instead of sugary sodas and juices. The revised guidelines also advise Americans to balance calories to manage weight, build healthy-eating patterns, monitor calorie and fat intake, incorporate more exercise and encourage retailers, schools and employers to provide a healthy-eating environment and create nutrition-related programs, among other topics.

Guidelines recognize nutrients in dairy

Dairy foods are some of the top sources of calcium, vitamin D and potassium, which are identified by the DGA as nutrients of concern in the American diet. HHS and USDA promote nutrient-rich foods, defined as foods without added sugar and with low levels of sodium and solid fat. Fat-free chocolate milk is mentioned as an example of a good way of using added sugar to increase the palatability and consumption of nutrient-rich foods. Another recommendation encourages a gradual switch to lower-fat versions of dairy products, which would include fluid milk, yogurt and cheese.

While low-fat fluid milk gets the green light, the guidelines flash a yellow caution flag on cheese because of its sodium, cholesterol and saturated fat content.

 “Almost half of the milk and milk product intake in the United States comes from cheese, little of which is consumed in a lower-fat form. Choosing fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products provides the same nutrients with less solid fat and thus fewer calories,” the report states. “In addition, selecting more of milk group intake as fat-free or low-fat fluid milk or yogurt rather than as cheese can increase intake of potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin D and decrease intake of sodium, cholesterol and saturated fatty acids.”

Dairy industry responds favorably

Reaction from the dairy industry has been favorable. Dean Foods Co., the nation’s largest dairy processor, praised the recommendations, specifically the call to “increase intake of fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese or fortified soy beverages.”

“Mother Nature got it right. Nutritionally speaking, dairy is a cornerstone of healthy eating with nine essential nutrients,” says Andrea Carrothers, a registered dietitian who is the nutrition communications manager for Dean Foods, Dallas. “Consumers who prefer non-dairy beverages can still benefit nutritionally by choosing soymilk or other plant-based beverages that are fortified to supply nutrients like calcium and vitamin D.”    

“The recommendation that individuals should increase intake of fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, such as milk, yogurt and cheese, as part of a healthy eating plan is a very positive message for the dairy industry,” says Cary Frye, vice president for regulatory and scientific affairs at the International Dairy Foods Association, Washington, D.C. “The new guidance provides a framework for healthy eating that limits sodium, saturated fat and added sugars in the daily diet, but still provides for many dairy products options.”

“The new guidelines did an excellent job addressing ways to improve weight while still helping Americans realize the importance of getting vital nutrients through a variety of foods,” writes Ashley Rosales, a registered dietitian, on the Dairy Council of California blog.

“The 2010 Dietary Guidelines are being released at a time when the majority of adults and one in three children are overweight or obese, and this is a crisis that we can no longer ignore,” says agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack. “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.”

The DGA outlines how consumers should put the principles for healthy eating into action in a variety of meal patterns, which include dairy foods as part of the vegetarian diet that includes milk and eggs and the Dietary Approach for Stopping Hypertension (DASH) diet, which is promoted by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, Bethesda, Md. For Americans who need to avoid lactose, the guidelines also recommend reduced-lactose and lactose-free dairy products as the first choice for consuming the wide variety of nutrients provided by dairy.

The USDA’s food patterns define milk and milk products (also referred to as dairy products) to include all milks, lactose-free and lactose-reduced products yogurts, frozen yogurts, dairy desserts, cheeses and fortified soy beverages. However, cream, sour cream and cream cheese were not included as part of the dairy group due to their low calcium content. Although the guidelines state that most choices should be fat-free or low-fat, practical strategies for implementing the recommendations acknowledge that when selecting cheese, reduced-fat versions are included.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines were composed by a committee of scientific experts who reviewed and analyzed the most current information on diet and health and compiled their findings into a scientific, evidence-based report. The goal of the Dietary Guidelines is to put this knowledge to work by facilitating and promoting healthy eating and physical activity choices, with the ultimate purpose of improving the health of all Americans.

To learn more about the Dietary Guidelines or to read the report, go to www.dietaryguidelines.gov.

-By Dairy Foods editors Marina Mayer and Jim Carper.

Eat This, Not That

The “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010” recommends:

• Drinking low-fat or non-fat milk
• Drinking water instead of sugary sodas
• Limiting the intake of sodium, solid fats, added sugars and refined grains
• Eating nutrient-dense foods and beverages, which include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, and nuts and seeds.

Source: 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

Greek Yogurt. It’s What’s For Breakfast

Americans associate yogurt and feta cheese, among other foods, with what Greeks eat for breakfast. U.S. consumers expect a Greek breakfast to consist of bread (mainly pita), eggs, cheese (mainly feta), fruits, yogurt, various vegetables and fruits (tomatoes, spinach, olives and figs) and olive oil, according to research by Kairos Consumers. While the research was intended for out-bound tourism to Greece, the findings have relevance to yogurt (Greek and otherwise) processors in the United States.

In January, the Chicago-based B2B research firm conducted a pilot study among U.S. consumers with the aim of exploring perceptions and attitudes toward “Greek breakfast” to go along with promotional efforts by Greece to boost tourism.

The Hellenic Chamber of Hotels, an Athens-based trade group, says Greek cuisine should be considered a tourism “ambassador” and that the idea of the “Greek breakfast” should become part of a Greek “culinary diplomacy” strategy to add value to the country’s hospitality industry. Kairos Consumers undertook its study to understand:

• The importance of the local/national cuisine as a criterion when booking a holiday
• Willingness to try new flavors/local specialities when on vacation
• Consumer perception toward a Greek-style breakfast
• Willingness to prepare a Greek-style breakfast

Kairos Consumers analyzed reports in U.S. and international trade magazines, conducted an online survey of 52 U.S. consumers and reviewed social media for attitudes about Greek-style breakfasts.

According to Kairos Consumers co-founder Katerina Makatouni, “Research through social media found ‘Greek breakfast’ to be associated mainly with a meal that includes Greek-style yogurt as the main ingredient, topped with items such as fruit, nuts and/or cereal/granola. An association was also made with feta and omelets.” She said an untapped opportunity exists for toppings for Greek yogurt.

Co-founder Betsy Hoag says the “Greek breakfast” concept can be expanded further to various eating occasions such as snacks, on-the-go foods, lunch (home, restaurant and office settings) and dinners. Restricting such an initiative only to “Greek Breakfast” is somewhat limiting over the long term, she says.

“Food companies are well-served to identify the untapped opportunities in retailing and foodservice channels that could equate to lucrative exports,” Hoag says. “Consumer research is the first step in understanding what type of potential a new product or concept could have in a new market.”

The survey is available at www.kairosconsumers.com.

Tipton’s Keynote Speech: Promote Profitability, Not Protection

In her keynote speech at Dairy Forum 2011, which took place Jan. 23-26 in Miami, Connie Tipton, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), said the dairy industry has many opportunities for achieving its greatest potential, noting that industry participants are closer than ever to finding agreement on policy reforms that will promote growth and profitability rather than protection and limitations.

Calling price volatility the “elephant in the room,” Tipton explained that every agricultural commodity has price volatility, but, unlike dairy, the others have tools and programs in place to help navigate the ups and downs. Unfortunately for dairy, current government policies actually exacerbate the volatility, which was painfully evident during what Tipton called the “Great Depression of 2009” for dairy farmers.

Tipton commended the strategic leadership of Tom Gallagher, chief executive officer of Dairy Management Inc., Rosemont, Ill., and his vision for creating the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. Shortly after its inception, the Center commissioned a comprehensive study of dairy supply and demand around the globe by Bain & Co., a global business and strategy consulting firm in Boston that identified a clear path forward for the dairy industry, provided that U.S. dairy policies could be streamlined to promote market growth.

“There’s a love affair with dairy around the globe,” Tipton added, detailing growing opportunities in China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador and the United States. “We must have the guts to move in the right direction.”

Tipton also applauded the National Milk Producers Federation, Washington, D.C., and its chief executive officer Jerry Kozak for promoting new policies and programs that help encourage growth. But she warned against programs that would bring more government intervention.

“Government controls may sound tempting, but they’re like the siren song promising to take away risk that eventually leaves you dashed against the rocks,” Tipton said. “The reality is that market factors are pretty darn hard to control, and politicians steering those controls are even more unpredictable.”

Instead, Tipton advised that IDFA support an improved margin insurance program to replace programs that no longer function properly, such as the Dairy Product Price Support Program. IDFA also believes that the antiquated Federal Milk Marketing Order system is holding producers back from using modern risk management tools. Tipton called for simplifying the federal orders into a two-class system and urged all industry participants to support a streamlined system that would allow growing markets to thrive.