The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are undergoing a revision in 2015, and drafts indicate the advisory committee will — for the first time — consider environmental impacts of food production as part of the criteria for food recommendations.
Over time, for example, a glass of milk could be evaluated by the amount of water used to produce it or the impact on other natural resources. This is in addition to evaluating its traditional nutrient contributions and effects on disease prevention and optimal health.
While the advisory committee does not directly advise eliminating any food group, the expanded criteria used to influence food recommendations could have long-term implications to all animal agriculture, including the dairy industry.
In revising the Dietary Guidlines for Americans, keep the focus on nutrition
As factors beyond nutrition are increasingly included in food-choice recommendations, it’s critical that a food’s nutritional assets remain the foundation for dietary advice.
The 2015 Dietary Guidelines, when released, are expected to recommend a diet higher in plant-based foods — vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds — and lower in calories and animal-based foods. The guidelines also signal a move away from sugar-sweetened foods and products.
Animal agriculture is in the hot seat because of negative reports of its environmental impact. The sustainability considerations in the guidelines come following highly publicized reports, including one from the National Academy of Sciences and another from the United Nations, showcasing the environmental effects of animal agriculture.
According to the National Academy of Sciences study, cattle require 28 times more land and 11 times more water than pork, poultry, dairy and eggs to produce equivalent calories. While dairy fared better than beef in that study, other reports focus on dairy’s water footprint, driven mainly by the water inputs needed to produce cow feed.
Why the Dietary Guidlines for Americans matter
The Dietary Guidelines influence billions of dollars of state and federal government funding for nutrition programs, including the National School Lunch Program, which feeds nearly 32 million of the more than 50 million children in public elementary and secondary schools. The spotlight on the guidelines comes at a time when many nutrition experts predict that the assisted-meal program for students will grow and likely include expanded breakfast and dinner programs.
Through the lens of nutrition, milk products have a positive story to tell due to their package of nutrients that can’t easily be replaced. In fact, the draft Dietary Guidelines state that vitamin D, calcium and potassium — all found in dairy foods — are among several underconsumed nutrients. In addition, new developments around our understanding of dairy health attributes continue to emerge from universities all over the world.
Studies show that milk products may lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and metabolic syndrome. Probiotics, often associated with dairy foods such as yogurt and kefir, are linked to a stronger immune system, intestinal health and weight management. In addition, new research is indicating that saturated fat found in butter, red meat and whole milk is not quite the villain it was made out to be.
The draft guidelines start out with an acknowledgement about the current situation in which we are living. It’s one in which about half of all American adults — about 117 million individuals — have one or more preventable, chronic diseases. About two-thirds of U.S. adults — or nearly 155 million individuals — are overweight or obese. We can’t risk people missing out on important health benefits derived from dairy foods.
We are following a 2-part strategy to keep dairy strong in the Dietary Guidelines
Our strategy to keep dairy strongly positioned in public health guidelines for a healthy diet is twofold. First, keep the focus on nutrition science as the primary health criterion for food-choice decisions. The stronger dairy’s nutritional benefits, the greater the likelihood that they are not overshadowed by environmental or other emotionally-charged animal issues.
Second, keep educating parents, children, health professionals and educators on milk’s irreplaceable nutrient package and the dairy industry’s widely acclaimed progress on environmental issues such as water usage and waste management.
Consumers seeking disease prevention and optimal health have a lot to gain with health and nutrition as the dominant criteria for daily food choices. Nutrient-rich dairy foods play out well with other food groups in creating a foundation for optimal health.
Tammy Anderson-Wise is the CEO of the Dairy Council of California, Sacramento.