Milk is the genetic blueprint for foods to support health, according to Bruce German, director of the Foods for Health Institute at University of California, Davis. From the moment of conception, a mother’s nutritious diet, including dairy products, promotes health and vitality.

Dairy contributes nine essential nutrients, including high-quality protein. Many Americans do not consume enough of these nutrients, according to the new 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  Newer research confirms the role of fortified dairy products in a healthy diet across the lifespan. German predicts that the future will bring personal, smart technologies that draw from a scientific knowledge cloud to guide individual food and beverage choices.

Pregnant moms, infants and toddlers

Good nutrition starts in the womb. Choline is a nutrient that is often overlooked, but that is very important for infant development.

“The demographic that is most in need of additional choline is pregnant women,” said Catherine Adams Hutt, an advisor to the Choline Information Council. “Many prenatal vitamins don’t include this nutrient, but it is a mandatory nutrient in infant formula,” she said.

Innovative milks for pregnant moms, as well as growing-up milks for toddlers, would be ideal dairy foods to target for choline fortification.

Human breast milk is the ideal food for infants in the first year. But for a variety of reasons, infant formula may be used to supplement breastfeeding. Recent research at U.C., Davis explored how milk glycans influence the development of the community of gut bacteria in infants. This work provides insight into how milk glycans can enrich specific beneficial bacterial populations in infants, helping infant formula companies to tailor formula for specific at-risk populations, such as premature infants and undernourished infants.

Dairy for healthy kids

Sadly, I must say that my own grandchildren don’t drink enough milk. I am encouraged that my granddaughter loves yogurt. Consumption of yogurt and higher amounts of dairy is associated with greater intake of specific shortfall nutrients and lower body fat in U.S. children.  A recent meta-analysis from Europe suggests that dairy consumption is inversely and longitudinally associated with the risk of childhood overweight/obesity.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation issued a position statement on lifestyle and peak bone mass development this February. It noted, “The best evidence is available for positive effects of calcium intake and physical activity, especially during the late childhood and peripubertal years — a critical period for bone accretion. Good evidence is also available for a role of vitamin D and dairy consumption.”

Vitamin D was also the subject of a Canadian study that found that Vitamin D status was improved in youth two to eight years of age who received fortified dairy products.

“The body of science indicates that eating vitamin D-fortified dairy foods — such as milk, cheese and yogurt — improves vitamin D status in children and adolescents when sun exposure is minimal and is highly important for bone health. Dairy foods provide many essential nutrients, including vitamin D, that help support bones,” said Moises Torres-Gonzalez, director of nutrition research for the National Dairy Council.

Dairy protein and health aging

Dairy protein supports healthy aging. A recent study showed that protein supplementation at breakfast and lunch for 24 weeks increased whole-body lean tissue mass in healthy older adults.

“Older adults need to increase their protein intake to reduce the loss of muscle mass. There is a limit to how much protein the body can use at one time, though, so it’s important that older adults consume it evenly throughout the day. And, focusing on breakfast, lunch and snacks — which typically are low in protein — is a great first step to help people achieve this goal,” said Torres-Gonzalez.

One study in Brazil revealed that total and especially full-fat dairy food intakes were inversely and independently associated with metabolic syndrome in middle-aged and older adults.  A Dutch study  observed a lower risk of ischemic heart disease with higher intakes of saturated fatty acids, questioning the traditional associations between dairy fat and cardiovascular disease.

Despite numerous studies indicating the benefits of full-fat dairy, most government recommendations are to consume low-fat or fat-free dairy. Bucking the trend, Peak Yogurt recently introduced triple cream yogurts with 18% milk fat and no added sugar.

Dairy for all ages

According to the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Committee, “The U.S. population should increase consumption of foods rich in vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, folate, vitamin C, calcium, and magnesium. Potassium and fiber are also … underconsumed.”

The report focuses on a healthy dietary pattern that is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, legumes, nuts, and of course low- and non-fat dairy products.  

To learn more

•   UC Davis faculty make their predictions for 2016.

•   Mother’s genes can influence bacteria in her baby’s gut.”

•   The association between dietary saturated fatty acids and ischemic heart disease.

•   Long-term association between dairy consumption and risk of childhood obesity.

•   The National Osteoporosis Foundation’s position statement on peak bone mass development and lifestyle factors.

•   Dietary vitamin D dose-response in healthy children 2 to 8 y of age.

•   Protein Supplementation at Breakfast and Lunch.

•   Total and Full-Fat, but Not Low-Fat, Dairy Product Intakes are Inversely Associated with Metabolic Syndrome in Adults.

•   The role of reducing intakes of saturated fat in the prevention of cardiovascular disease.

•   Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.