The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been urged to update its nutritional guidelines to differentiate Greek from other traditional types of yogurt and reclassify it as a high protein product.
US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and US Representative Richard Hanna have called on US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to reclassify Greek yogurt in the USDA MyPlate nutrition guide.
The MyPlate program, which recommends a balanced diet including 20% protein and a daily portion of dairy, does not currently differentiate Greek yogurt from other traditional forms of yogurt.
The Greek yogurt category is also absent from the MyPlate protein food group, despite containing a significant amount of protein.
Gillibrand and Hanna announced their support for the reclassification following talks with Greek yogurt manufacturer, Chobani.
"Currently, Greek yogurt is not differentiated from traditional yogurt, yet it has twice the protein, more calcium, and is low in fat,” said the letter.
“Greek yogurt can provide critical nutrients for an affordable and balanced meal within the Dairy and Protein Food Groups. In fact, Greek yogurt has more protein that beans, yet it is not included in the list of protein sources in USDA nutrition materials, nor is it listed as a type of yogurt on the dairy page.”
“We respectfully request that the USDA update their nutrition guidelines and education materials to reflect the positive health benefits of Greek yogurt.”
In their letter, Gillibrand and Hanna also urged the addition of Greek yogurt to the National School Lunch Program - a federally-assisted meal program for school children - as an “affordable, protein option.”
The inclusion of Greek yogurt in the program would save the US school system money, while providing a “wholesome” meal for students, they added.
“These programs served more than 31 million student meals daily in 2011. This policy improvement will not just allow schools to stretch their scare meal dollars, but will give students a tasty way to get the protein needed by school-aged children to grow and thrive,” the letter added.
The Greek yogurt category has grown dramatically in the US in recent years.
In mid-2007m the Greek yogurt category held a 1% share of the overall US yogurt market. Since then, the category’s market share has increased to around 35%. New York-based Chobani holds the largest share of the Greek yogurt category, accounting for around 47% of demand.
Following his talks with Gillibrand and Hanna, Chobani president and CEO Hamdi Ulakaya voiced his support for the USDA reclassification of Greek yogurt.
“We strongly support Senator Gillibrand and Representative Hanna’s initiative to differentiate Greek yogurt from regular yogurt and make this protein packed option more affordable under the National School Meal Program Guidelines,” he said.