Keeping in Shape

IDFA advocates maintaining dairy’s place and boosting its prominence in federal food guide revisions.
Given their proven nutritional benefits, dairy foods should continue to have a separate food group within the federal Food Guide Pyramid, according to the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) in its August comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Meanwhile, dairy got a boost from the committee charged with revising dietary guidelines, with a recommendation for an increase to at least three servings a day. The recommendation was part of the committee’s overall report to the federal government on how to update the U.S. Dietary Guidelines based on the latest scientific research.
IDFA offered its input in response to USDA’s call for comments in the second and final phase of the agency’s review of the 12-year-old pyramid. USDA has stated the review could result in a new shape for its graphic food guide, replacing the pyramid. IDFA says science supports the tool, no matter its shape, maintaining a distinct group for milk, cheese and yogurt.
“As depictions of the food guide system are considered, we believe that the nutritional attributes of dairy foods support their continued inclusion as a separate food group,” Connie Tipton, IDFA president and chief executive officer, wrote to the USDA.
The Milk, Cheese and Yogurt Group in the current pyramid recommends two to three servings a day for most Americans.
In this phase of the revision, USDA is looking specifically at the shape of the food guidance tool; last fall, the department reviewed relevant nutrition data and the tool’s daily food intake patterns.
IDFA supports keeping the pyramid shape, arguing it is “well-recognized by the public as a guide of recommended eating.” IDFA says the USDA should alter the basic format in order to “build on the recognition and acceptance by the American public.”
Regarding consumer education, IDFA advocates the broad use of the final food guidance tool in order to reach as much of the public as possible with strong nutrition messages.
“The more options for accessing the food guidance system, the more likely it will be seen and used,” noted Tipton, who stated that the guide’s voluntary inclusion on food labels could be one opportunity to distribute the graphic tool.
In addition to the Food Guide Pyramid update, USDA is involved in a parallel review of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, which provide the nutritional recommendations on which the pyramid tool is based.
The government advisory panel on the Dietary Guidelines is recommending at least three servings of dairy each day, the committee announced early this month.
“Consuming three servings per day of milk and milk products can reduce the risk of low bone mass and contribute important amounts of many nutrients,” the committee states in its report. In particular, dairy’s calcium and potassium content were cited as major reasons for the new recommendation. The Milk, Cheese and Yogurt Group was also recognized for its contributions of riboflavin, vitamin B12, vitamin A, thiamin, vitamin B6, magnesium, zinc, protein and vitamin D.
If accepted by the government, the new dairy recommendation would be stronger than the two to three servings in the existing guidelines. Federal agencies use the Dietary Guidelines in consumer education efforts and as a basis for their administration of national food and nutrition programs.
The committee decided to increase the serving portion after reviewing the science-based evidence regarding the nutritional and health benefits of dairy consumption. IDFA and the National Dairy Council were among the groups that submitted comments in support of a prominent role for dairy in a balanced diet.
Committee members also found that dairy’s powerful nutrient package is extremely difficult to replace with other foods. For instance, while the report lists some alternative sources of calcium, it notes that consuming the larger quantities of such alternatives to get the same amount of calcium in a glass of milk “may be unachievable for many.”
The committee warns that those who do not eat dairy products need to take special precautions to avoid deficiencies in calcium, potassium, phosphorous, protein, magnesium, vitamin D and vitamin A.  Within its recommendations for consumer guidance, the panel points out the availability of lactose-reduced dairy products and proven strategies for lactose-intolerant consumers to still enjoy traditional dairy products, such as drinking a glass of milk with meals.
Clay Hough, IDFA senior vice president, welcomed the decision. “Science keeps building each year about the importance of three servings of dairy in the diet,” Hough said. “We commend the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee for its thorough, balanced review of the evidence on dairy’s nutritional and health benefits.”
The USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are now calling for public comment on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s report. IDFA plans to submit comments in support of the new dairy recommendation by the September 27 deadline.
The finalized 2005 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans are expected to be released early next year.   df