Those of you who are baby boomers or older Gen Xers surely remember the old Wonder bread slogan: “helps build bodies in 12 ways.” Although it was retired sometime in the 1970s, the catchphrase was seemingly everywhere for years. It referred to the vitamins and minerals added to the bread to promote health.

The slogan actually suggested that a highly processed product — white bread — somehow fit into health food territory. And it was wildly successful, although the Federal Trade Commission eventually filed a complaint alleging false advertising on Wonder’s part, saying its bread was not really different from any other enriched bread.

Today, many brands tout health benefits as a key selling point — on the product label, in advertising and via other channels. But the food and beverage segment with perhaps the greatest health story to tell — dairy — could actually be doing much better here.


New nutrients to claim

Dairy’s under-tapped health-related marketing opportunities start with milk.

The beverage long has been known to have nine essential nutrients (calcium, vitamin D, phosphorus, protein, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B12 and vitamin A). However, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP), new research examined by FDA and a review of the dietary reference intakes by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine show that milk is also a good source of zinc, potassium and selenium and an excellent source of iodine.

With these vital nutrients, milk now can claim 13 essential nutrients, MilkPEP said. That reality pushes the beverage to a natural nutrient content level that few other single foods or beverages can compete with – even formulated sports drinks.


Other pluses worth showcasing

Those four “extra” nutrients are not all that’s worth touting.

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) notes that scientific studies have linked dairy consumption to numerous health benefits, including reduced inflammation, improved digestive health and healthy immune systems. In its July 2020 scientific report, however, the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee revealed that 88% of Americans have insufficient dairy in their diets.

The advisory committee not only recommended dairy for consumption within all three healthy eating patterns featured in its report, but also noted that dairy is important to pregnant women as a source of iodine. It is beneficial to infants (beginning at 6 months for yogurt and cheese) and toddlers (beginning at 12 months for added dairy milk) for nutrition, too.

What’s more, dairy generally is more affordable than plant-based dairy alternatives.

“According to recent retail data, a gallon of conventional milk cost 56% less than a plant-based beverage, while yogurt was 59% less expensive than its imitators, which are nutritionally inferior anyway,” NMPF points out.

NMPF calls out plant-based beverage brands for attempting to trick consumers into believing the beverages are nutritionally equivalent to dairy beverages. That reality has “tragic consequences,” the federation says, noting that members of the American Academy of Pediatrics have observed child malnourishment caused by reliance on plant-based imitators by parents who mistakenly thought — thanks to the lack of labeling integrity — that they were getting the equivalent of dairy’s nutrient package.

“Simplistic views of plant-based versus animal-sourced foods may have unintended consequences for human health,” NMPF adds. “Removing animal-sourced products from diets would force much of the world’s population to rely on supplements to make up for nutritional shortfalls.”


Promote all of the positives

Dairy clearly boasts a wealth of health-related benefits that its plant-based imitators do not. Moreover, the dairy industry has made great strides on the environmental front — and it continues to set lofty goals for improvement.

Dairy products help build strong bodies in so many ways. Dairy brands, however, need to do a much better job of communicating their products’ advantages.