Just as it seized the opportunity to promote flavored milk as a recovery beverage for athletes, the dairy industry is clearing a new path for products made with milk fat and whole milk.

Many years ago, the National Dairy Council — through dairy producers’ checkoff funding — started investing in research on whole milk and products made with it to address concerns over milk fat and create opportunities, Greg Miller, the council’s global chief science officer, said during a telephone conference with media.

That research and dissemination of the scientific information showing the benefits of dairy products and milk fat is moving the needle on dietary recommendations by health professionals, he said.

“Dairy products, really regardless of the fat levels, provide health benefits,” he said.

They reduce the risk of chronic disease and high blood pressure and support strong bones. There is also growing evidence that dairy products reduce inflammation, he said.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans tout the benefits of three servings a day of dairy foods, although they still recommend low-fat and fat-free products, he said.

But there’s a growing consensus that milk fat is neutral in relation to developing certain chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, and may even be beneficial. There’s good data showing it reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes and stroke, he said.

“Milk fat is one of the most complicated fat sources out there. Data show it doesn’t increase blood cholesterol like you would expect,” he said.

There’s something unique about the matrix that makes it different from other sources of saturated fat, he said.

More health professionals are including whole milk products in their dietary recommendations, including the Joslin Diabetes Center, he said.

“That wouldn’t have happened without producer investment,” he said.

The council is trying to undo 150 years of dogma on saturated fat and whole milk, and the tide is turning. Attitudes, beliefs and recommendations are changing. The council hopes to move the needle on whole milk products in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans — which are the basis of all federal food policy, including school nutrition, he said.

“I’m really excited about the work we’re investing in,” he said.

Dairy Management Inc. — funded by dairy farmers and dairy importers — works with partners and brands to share retail trends and the science supporting the benefits of dairy, Adam Landau, DMI vice president of innovation partnerships, said.

Whole milk is at the forefront in the consumer and retail world. Consumers want more of it and are drinking more of it, and scientific research is supporting the trend, he said.

Five years ago, whole milk products held 30% of total dairy retail sales. Last year, they represented 40% of those sales. The average annual growth of whole milk products over the last few years has been 3-4%, and whole milk flavored products have grown an average of 6% annually, he said.

The growth is due to several innovations in the marketplace and shifting consumer trends. It also points to more opportunity in the future, he said.

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