Ask Dr. Dairy: What’s the Latest on Whole Milk Dairy Foods?

According to current FDA regulations, whole milk dairy products cannot be labeled as “healthy” on the food label – but there’s a reason why.

Even though these foods – including whole milk and full-fat yogurt and cheese – are good sources of important nutrients, whole milk dairy products cannot be labeled “healthy” because they don’t meet all of the specific criteria listed below. In 2016, however, theFDA began a process to evaluate current science in relation to the use of the term “healthy” on food labels.

While the FDA is considering how to redefine the term “healthy” for use on food labels, food companies can continue to use the term on labels for foods that meet the current regulatory definition. To make a “healthy” claim on food labels, individual foods like dairy products must meet specific criteria including:

  • Being low-fat, unless the fat profile makeup is predominantly made up of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, then FDA will evaluate each claim at its discretion
  • Being low in saturated fat
  • Containing no more than a certain amount of sodium or cholesterol
  • Being a good source for one or more of the following nutrients: vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, protein, fiber, and through current guidance, potassium or vitamin D.

Meanwhile, research is shifting how we think of the term “healthy.” For example, a growing body of evidence indicates eating whole milk dairy foods may not be linked with cardiovascular disease. Additionally, Joslin Diabetes Center published its Clinical Guidelines in the June issue of The American Journal of Managed Care on Evidence-Based Diabetes Management, which allows for some flexibility in fat intake as long as daily calorie limits are observed. Specifically, the guidelines state “recent evidence demonstrates that saturated fat from dairy foods (i.e., milk, yogurt and cheese) may be acceptable within the total daily caloric intake.” Additionally, recommendations from the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting intake of saturated fat to no more than 10% of daily calorie intake, so full-fat dairy foods can fit into a calorie-balanced healthy eating pattern within saturated fat intake limits. Though scientists have not reached a consensus on the role of whole-milk dairy foods and health, these foods can fit into calorie-balanced, healthy eating plans.

Even as the FDA reconsiders its definition of “healthy” for use on food labels, you can be assured that cow’s milk, including whole milk, provides you and your family with the same nine essential nutrients.