3 Things You Need to Know About Dairy in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines

Feb 5, 2016
discussing milk at the grocery store

Healthy eating patterns are the primary focus of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). The guidelines remain important as most American diets are still out of balance with these research-based recommendations. Health professionals are the link between these recommendations and the public – so here’s our quick guide to the top three things you need to know about dairy and the dietary guidelines. 

Dairy Is Essential to the Three Healthy Eating Styles

While people mostly focus on foods, not nutrients, it’s important to educate our patients on why the nutrients in our food choices matter to their health. Nothing has changed about the many good reasons to consume three servings of dairy foods per day. 

  • Dairy foods are central to all of the healthy eating styles in the DGA: the Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern, the Healthy Vegetarian-Style Pattern and the Healthy Mediterranean-Style Pattern
  • Just like in 2000 and 2005, the DGA recommends low-fat and fat-free dairy foods - such as milk, cheese and yogurt - as a part of healthy eating styles that have been linked to health benefits, such as reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes. In addition, dairy foods have been linked to improved bone health in children and adolescents.
  • Dairy foods provide key nutrients that can be hard to replace with other foods in a healthy diet. With nine essential nutrients - including calcium, phosphorus, vitamin A, vitamin D, riboflavin, vitamin B-12, potassium, niacin and a high-quality protein - dairy delivers a nutrient-dense bang for your buck.
  • Dairy delivers three of the four nutrients of public health concern: vitamin D, calcium and potassium. When underconsumed, they are linked to adverse health outcomes.
  • Americans are falling short of meeting their three servings of dairy a day. If Americans age 9 and older consumed the recommended amount of dairy foods, it would help close the gap on some nutrient intakes.
  • The DGA credits low intake of calcium to the low intake of dairy foods. 

Three Ways to Incorporate Dairy Into All Three Patterns

When you recommend three servings of dairy to your patients, you’re helping them select foods that play an essential role due to their unique set of nutrients and contributions to health benefits as part of healthy eating styles. 

  • Focus on three servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy a day. A serving size of dairy equals 1 cup (8 ounces) of milk, 1 cup of yogurt and 1 to 1.5 ounces of cheese. There are many strategies to reach your three every day: a delicious milk-based fruit smoothie in the morning, shredded cheese added to salad or soup and creamy yogurt paired with fresh fruit. 
  • Go beyond the glass. Many Americans think of milk as just a beverage or simply a topping to their morning cereal, but many of us are missing out on additional opportunities to enjoy dairy. My Plate offers a wide variety of ideas for incorporating more dairy. Our recipes will help you and your patients get creative in the kitchen. 
  • Explore low-fat yogurt. Our favorite fermented food isn’t getting a fair shake, representing only 2.6 percent of overall dairy consumption. Just like milk and cheese, yogurt is a nutritional powerhouse and can be your secret ingredient to meeting the recommendations. 

What’s Changed and What Hasn’t

Sodium, saturated fats and added sugars remain limited in the diet, but there are some allowances. Limited amounts of added sugars and saturated fats can improve the palatability of some nutrient-dense foods. 

  • Added sugars. The guidelines recommend consuming no more than 10 percent of added sugars from total calories. Educate that sweetened milk and yogurt foods may be included in a healthy eating pattern as long as those limits are not exceeded.
  • Saturated fat. While DGA continues to recommend low-fat and fat-free dairy foods, it also allows for up to 10 percent of calories coming from saturated fat. Whole milk dairy foods can be a part of a healthy eating styles; just be mindful of other food choices, and recommend lower-fat versions of milk, yogurt and cheese most of the time.
  • Sodium. Choose cheese. Though sodium plays an important role in making cheese, cheese only contributes 8 percent of sodium in the diet. Cheese can help fill the protein gap and may help children eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

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