Some people won’t eat foods originating from animals. I respect their moral or religious reasons from abstaining. Others won’t eat dairy foods because they believe the plant-based alternatives are better for them. Here, I have to probe what they mean by “better.” Do they mean fewer calories, less sugar, more “natural” or less “processed?”
June is National Dairy Month, so it is a great time to compare two dairy products to their analog competition. A serving of milk from a cow has more calories than “milk” from an almond tree and the same amount of fat. But the key line on the Nutrition Facts panel is protein. A glass of milk contains 8 grams of protein versus 1 gram in almond milk. If you aren’t drinking almond milk for the protein, then what’s the point? A glass of water is healthier and cheaper.
Compare yogurt to a cultured coconut milk product. There are 6 grams of protein in the milk-based product and 2 grams in the dairy-free “Greek style” alternative. Again, what else are you going to eat (and buy) to make up the 4 grams difference in protein? A serving of yogurt delivers protein efficiently. (By the way, that coconut product had an unpleasant gray tinge to the “white mass” and the taste and mouthfeel were not to my liking.)
It is not shocking news that the editor of a dairy publication finds that dairy foods are more nutrient-dense than plant-based alternatives. I think about these choices every day. But how about the millions of consumers who have other things to dwell on? They need education about food choices. On-pack labels are a start, but dairy processors also must undertake advertising, marketing and consumer education to promote the nutrition in dairy foods.
The new labels mandated by the Food & Drug Administration in May will require food manufacturers to make calories more prominent and declare the amount of added sugars. Serving sizes have been updated, and actual amounts of Vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium must be declared (currently percent Daily Value are shown). The compliance date for using the new label is July 26, 2018 (or one year later for manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales).
Those who fume about government intrusion and the nanny state need to change their perspective. Labeling is about information and leveling the playing field. The dairy industry has lost the standard of identity battle with the nondairy “milks,” but it can win the nutrition battle with information.
The Milk Processor Education Program had a short-lived effort last year called “milk truth” in which it compared dairy milk to nondairy competitors. This year, MilkPEP made a bolder move by becoming a sponsor of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams this year and through to the 2020 games in Tokyo.
In the months leading up to the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, we’ll hear about elite athletes drinking milk. The images of hard-training, athletic and gold-medal winning (I hope) women and men (some of them teenagers) will promote milk’s attributes better than any nutrition panel. Milk processors have the rights to use the Olympic rings on their branded milk packages. See these examples.
Years ago, a sports drink urged youngsters to “be like Mike” (Michael Jordan, that is). I don’t advise borrowing that tagline. Instead, make sure your children see our Olympians in action this summer.
But the dairy industry might consider a former Coca-Cola boast: “It’s the real thing.” Eat, drink and be dairy. It is the real thing.