Can whole milk make a comeback?

By Beth Newhart

- Last updated on GMT

Five years ago, whole milk only accounted for 30% of retail milk sales. It’s now up to 40%. Pic: Getty/DragonImages
Five years ago, whole milk only accounted for 30% of retail milk sales. It’s now up to 40%. Pic: Getty/DragonImages

Related tags whole milk Milk National dairy council Dairy farmers

The National Dairy Council (NDC) has been involved with the fight to bring back whole milk for several years, investing in research on its health benefits.

Dr Greg Miller of the NDC works with US dairy farmers looking for opportunities to sell more dairy products and increase dairy consumption, but there are a few barriers to making this happen.

Changing consumer perception

According to Dr Miller, there is an unspoken consensus in the scientific community that milk fat is neutral-to-beneficial in terms of chronic disease risk, but scientists and nutritionists have to recommend the low calorie and low fat milk options because of the obesity epidemic.

This impacts what can be sold in schools, as public school lunch programs in the US are strict with calorie counts and fat content to prevent childhood obesity. The NDC has been funding and conducting research for the last five years to determine if whole milk dairy is different or better than saturated fats coming from other sources.

They say their findings show dairy products, regardless of fat levels, provide health benefits. People who consume adequate amounts of dairy (three servings a day) have better bone health, heart health, a lower risk of stroke, better blood pressure and a lower risk of type two diabetes.

So while whole milk dairy does contain more calories and fat than other forms of cow’s milk, the NDC believes its research proves that it isn’t a detriment to overall health. In fact, they have conducted other studies that found flavored milk is good for use as a recovery drink.

It contains electrolytes and high quality protein like many of the leading energy and recovery drinks on the market. This has led to flavored milk, of all fat levels, now being positioned as a sports beverage, available in athletic facilities across the country.

Undoing 50 years of dogma

Every five years, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) publishes the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, an updated document for nutritional advice.

Planning for the 2020-2025 edition is under way, and dairy farmers and the NDC are hoping it includes a positive recommendation for whole milk. This is a crucial first step as the guidelines become the basis for all federal food policy, and school regulations are formulated against it.

The NDC has been engaging in the process to offer comments as an educational resource, though they are not allowed to lobby or try to influence policy. This is the quickest way to gain public favor for whole milk, short of new legislation.

Earlier this year, US Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA) and Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Collin Peterson (D-MN) introduced a new bill that would increase milk options in school lunches. The Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act of 2019​ (H.R. 832) is supported by dairy organizations, but it could take years to be is passed into law.

Dr Miller and the NDC are trying to strike now while the iron is hot with full fat dairy. They said that five years ago, whole milk only accounted for 30% of retail milk sales. It’s now up to 40%. Also, consumers who already buy whole milk are drinking more of it. It averages annual growth of 3%-4%, and flavored whole milk averages about 6% growth per year.

“We’re trying to undo 50 years worth of dogma that’s been out there. I do feel like we’ve turned the corner. We’re seeing whole milk now being recommended by health professional organizations,”​ Dr. Miller said.

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