Dairy’s Role in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans

  • Article
  • 3 min read March 8, 2021

Raise a glass of milk, dairy lovers! Or, enjoy a tangy cup of yogurt or a bite of your favorite sharp cheese. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) has once again reinforced dairy’s important contributions to healthy eating. The dairy group includes low-fat and fat-free milk, cheese and yogurt, as well as lactose-free versions.

The DGA, which is updated every five years by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), also includes some new developments for expectant mothers and infants.

For the first time, the DGA provides recommendations for healthy eating at every life stage, and the good news is that dairy is recognized as nutritionally important across the lifespan. These new recommendations for the birth-to-23-month period include yogurt and cheese as options for infants starting as early as 6 months of age. Whole milk, reduced-fat cheese and reduced-fat plain yogurt are included in recommendations for toddlers beginning at the first birthday.

The DGA also calls out dairy foods for their iodine, choline and B12 – all nutrients of special consideration during pregnancy and lactation.

The DGA is clear about what comprises a dietary pattern that’s associated with health promotion and disease prevention. The DGA recommends three eating patterns – the Healthy U.S., Healthy Vegetarian and Healthy Mediterranean – and daily consumption of dairy is included in all three. For example, based on peer-reviewed science, the DGA recommends three low-fat or fat-free dairy servings in the Healthy U.S. and Healthy Vegetarian patterns, and two to two and a half servings in the Healthy Mediterranean for adults and three servings for those 9 to 18 years of age.

The three recommended healthy eating patterns are linked to positive health across the lifespan, with the DGA noting, “beneficial outcomes for all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, overweight and obesity, type 2 diabetes, bone health, and certain types of cancer (breast and colorectal).”

For several decades, National Dairy Council has funded hundreds of peer-reviewed research studies on dairy nutrition and health, which are shared during the DGA public comment process to inform about dairy’s contributions to health. It’s important to note that the DGA acknowledged most Americans are not meeting their dairy needs. About 90% of the U.S. population does not meet dairy recommendations — and their wellness could be improved if they did.

This year’s DGA and MyPlate educational resources include a call to action: “Make Every Bite Count.” At National Dairy Council, we couldn’t agree more! Check out this resource to learn more about how dairy can help nourish people at various life stages.

Dairy Across the Lifespan

Want more resources? See how nutrient-rich dairy foods can help people thrive across the lifespan.