Human Nutrition 101 has always told us that dietary protein is essential for health and wellness. Dietary proteins provide amino acids, the building blocks of structural and functional compounds we need to live healthy and active lives.
In particular, dietary proteins provide essential amino acids (key amino acids that the body cannot make on its own and must get from the diet), along with the other non-essential amino acids. So the question is: How do people get appropriate amounts of these amino acids for optimal health and wellness through consumption of food?
The Food and Nutrition Board’s Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein per day ranges from nine to 19 grams protein per day (for infants up to age four), 34 to 56 grams protein per day (nine to 70 years) and 71 grams protein per day (during pregnancy and lactation).
Minimum requirements are just that
A growing body of evidence has made many health professionals believe that these daily allowances are only minimum requirements. They believe that doubling the RDA for protein intake is a safe and a good range to aim for optimal health and wellness reasons. This would translate to more than 100 grams of protein each day for some adults. These higher protein levels are thought to be beneficial to reduce age-related muscle decline, enhance muscle mass and strength (energy) in young and older adults or lead to a more lean physique.
Protein consumption at these higher levels are well within the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range for protein (10% to 35% of calories for adults, or about 50 to 175 grams protein per day for people consuming 2,000 kcals per day). The AMDR provides a framework to optimize protein consumption for individuals at various stages of life and health.
More recently, some studies suggest that eating protein more evenly over the course of the day (for example, 20 to 35 grams at breakfast, at lunch and at dinner) is better than our current practices. Typically, we eat the least amount of protein at breakfast and the largest amount (50 grams or more) at dinner.
Protein quality matters! First, the amount of essential amino acids is different between different food proteins. Many plant proteins do not contain all the essential amino acids, but dairy is a complete protein. It has all the essential amino acids present.
Proteins from dairy tend to be more completely digested and absorbed so that the body can derive the full benefit of the dietary protein. This means that dairy proteins are higher quality proteins than plant proteins. Additionally, compared to plant proteins, dairy proteins contain a higher proportion of branched chain amino acids (leucine and iso-leucine) that are key for muscle synthesis.
Protein, plus vitamins and minerals
Cultured dairy products are a key source of dietary proteins. They contain high-quality proteins in significant levels and they contain vitamins and minerals. This nutrient package has been associated with a host of health benefits, including bone health, weight management and reduction of risk factors associated with chronic disease (longevity).
Cultured dairy products come in convenient, tasty forms that can be consumed at any time of the day. Perhaps surprisingly, yogurt contributes less than 1% of the total protein in the U.S. diet. But the public is unaware of dairy foods being a source of protein.
Dairy processors could seize this opportunity to educate consumers (and build their businesses at the same time). Consumers will thank you for not having to eat another soy burger or tofu salad again to reach their daily protein consumption goals!
Every time a consumer reaches into the dairy case is a potential teaching moment. Cultured dairy foods like yogurt, Greek yogurt and fermented milk contain high-quality protein in significant amounts (approximately 8 to 20 grams per 8-ounce serving). Educate consumers that a cup of yogurt or fermented milk as a mid-morning snack along with a half-cup of cottage cheese (14 grams of protein) at lunchtime could provide an additional 20 to 35 grams of high-quality protein in a daypart where protein consumption has been fairly low.
Connecting the dots
The take-home message emerging from health professionals is that more dietary protein is likely good for you. The timing of when we eat protein makes a difference. Dairy processors need to connect this information to the fact that not all proteins are created equal. Educate consumers that proteins in dairy foods are of the highest quality. Then help consumers translate this into direct benefits for their health and wellness.
Cultured dairy products are nutrient-dense, inherently healthy and convenient. They can be eaten throughout the day to provide significant amounts of high-quality whey and casein proteins to help anyone, young or old, meet their health-and-wellness goals.
Find attention-getting ways to let consumers know these features and benefits of your cultured dairy foods and beverages. Dairy foods can deliver the promise of greater health and wellness throughout a long and active life.
To learn more about dairy proteins and health and wellness see www.nationaldairycouncil.org/protein and www.thinkusadairy.org/nutrition.