The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), both in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 31, released the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, which is designed to help Americans make healthier food choices and confront the obesity epidemic.

Selected messages for consumers include switching to fat-free or low-fat milk, enjoying food but eating less, avoiding oversized portions, making half the plate fruits and vegetables, comparing sodium amounts and drinking 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.

“The 2010 Dietary Guidelines are being released at a time when the majority of adults and one in three children is 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 bottom line is that most Americans need to trim our waistlines to reduce the risk of developing diet-related chronic diseases. Improving our eating habits is not only good for every individual and family, but also for our country.”

For starters, the new guidelines recommend 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, which was increased from the two servings a day, and two servings for children ages two and three.

“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, IDFA vice president for regulatory and scientific affairs. “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.”

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

The guidelines also highlight foods and nutrients that Americans should limit such as sodium, solid fats (saturated fat and trans-fat), cholesterol and added sugars.

The revised report also 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