New Support for High-Fat Dairy Products06/01/2016
Like many Americans, Julie Garden-Robinson grew up drinking whole milk. And like many Americans, she switched to lower-fat dairy products over time, in response to scientific data promoting low fat consumption.
Now, Garden-Robinson and other consumers are sorting through new studies that indicate whole milk and other high-fat dairy products might be best after all.
“Some of the new research is quite interesting,” and challenges the existing expert consensus on milk consumption, says Garden-Robinson, North Dakota State University extension service nutrition specialist.
Her advice to consumers evaluating the nutritional merits of whole-fat, 2 percent, 1 percent and skim milk: “The best kind of milk is the milk you drink,” she says. “Enjoy milk. It’s good for us.”
For now, at least, fat-free and low-fat milk and dairy products still bear the official stamp of approval in the 2015 to ’20 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The guidelines, intended primarily for health and nutritional professionals, were developed by the U.S. health and human services and agriculture departments.
But the next set of guidelines, expected to be released in late 2020 or early 2021, likely will be more supportive of higher-fat dairy products, says Stephanie Cundith, Midwest Dairy Association registered dietician.
The St. Paul-based association is funded by dairy farmers in 10 states, including Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. It seeks to “increase sales, foster innovation and inspire consumer confidence in dairy products and practices.
A number of new studies find higher-fat dairy products might, among other things, protect against Type 2 diabetes and reduce the risk of obesity. Given that, the next set of Dietary Guidelines should reflect more favorably on higher-fat products, she says.
Her advice to consumers is, “The most nutritious is the milk you’re going to drink.”
Milk, regardless of its fat level, contains nine essential ingredients and is affordable, as are other dairy products, Cundith says.
That appeal is enhanced by growing research that shows no adverse reaction from consuming saturated fat in dairy, as well as protective benefits against heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, she says.
“This is an exciting time to be working as a registered dietitian on behalf of dairy farmers,” Cundith says.
Garden-Robinson agrees some Americans are confused and frustrated by changing nutritional advice.
“Consumers see us in nutrition as constantly changing our recommendations,” she says “But we’re not driving Model Ts and using rotary phones anymore. We’re evolving in what we do. That certainly holds true in nutrition. Science continues to evolve, and we in nutrition have to keep up with it, just as the general public does.”
As for milk, “We’ve always said to get your calcium and drink your milk, get your nutrients.”
Nutritionists’ main message — eat in moderation from all the food groups — is unchanged, too, she says.
“Eating a moderate amount of a wide variety of food is probably the best thing we can do for our health,” Garden-Robinson says.
Linda Hanson, who runs a dairy farm with her family near Goodrich, Minn., says greater demand for whole-fat milk probably would have little, if any, direct impact on her family farm, or on dairy operations in general.
So-called premium milk, or milk with high levels of fat and protein, already is sought after by milk plants for use in cheese, butter, yogurt and other premium dairy products. As a result, dairy producers can receive premiums for milk with high levels of fat and proteins.
“We’ve been trying to breed and feed and manage for those higher components (fat and protein) already,” Hanson says.
“But I think having more fat (in milk) would help make our product taste better to some people, and that would be positive,” especially since fluid milk sales are declining, she says.
Americans drank an average of 159 pounds of fluid milk in 2014, down from an average of 247 pounds per person in 1975, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.
Whole milk sales plunged from 1975 to 2014. Sales of 1 percent, 2 percent and skim milk rose in the beginning of that time period, but have declined in recent years, according to ERS.
Americans, on average, are eating more yogurt and cheese, however, which partially offsets the decline in fluid milk sales.
Two percent milk accounts for 35 percent of fluid milk sales, whole milk at 27 percent and 1 percent and skim milk at 14 percent each. Flavored milk, eggnog and buttermilk account for the rest, ERS says.