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December 15, 2023
Sponsored by Dairy Management Inc.
What does healthy eating really mean? Over the past two decades, how and what we eat has shifted tremendously as consumers become more aware of the connection between the quality of the foods they eat and both their own health and the health of the planet. Concerns for personal health paired with those for the environment and how food is produced has given rise to many different lenses through which to look at food, with an overall sentiment that consumers today are paying more attention to eating healthy than ever before. But there’s a catch.
A recent study of more than 12,000 consumers conducted by ZS, a global management consulting and technology firm specializing in health and wellness, revealed that over 50% of consumers in the US are dissatisfied with the food and beverages they consume for health and wellness needs. This widespread discontent highlights a gap in nutritional fulfillment and a growing demand for health-enhancing foods. It also begs the question, what is it that consumers really want?
The Nutrition Business Journal’s (NBJ) recently released its “2024 Trends & Innovations Report," which identifies three consumer groups that help highlight what consumers want. While there is a group focused on Purpose-driven Commerce, consumers focused on Holistic Health and Wellbeing and those trying to keep up with Modern Life are more focused on meeting nutritional needs for overall health and wellness. These are consumers who are actively engaged in their health and “are using food as a means to nourish and build a stable, resilient foundation to live a life of vitality.” They are also those consumers who seek natural solutions “to prevail and thrive, showing up as their best selves to face life’s overwhelming demands.”
Whether a consumer falls into the holistic approach or is challenged by the daily grind, NBJ outlines that when looking at purchasing decision trends, consumers are prioritizing products addressing their personal health and wellness. More specifically, when it comes to their food and beverage choices, NBJ found that consumers are seeking a balanced macronutrient intake with healthy fats, more protein and plants while being conscious of carbs. In addition, they’re “also addressing foundational health and wellness conditions associated with modern life, seeking products to support brain health and digestive health.”
What today’s consumers may not realize, is that real dairy foods, such as milk, cheese and yogurt can check off many of their criteria. Not only are dairy foods good to excellent sources of up to 13 essential nutrients, they bring with them a legacy of health benefits, backed by science, from aiding digestion and boosting immune function, to potentially supporting brain health, as outlined in new research from the University of Kansas Medical Center. Ultimately, dairy foods are uniquely positioned to meet modern health and wellness needs and play a pivotal role in meeting consumer food and beverage demands.
Understanding Dairy Benefits
Dairy foods have long been recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (USDA and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) as a food group important to healthy eating patterns and National Dairy Council’s nutrition scientists and registered dietitians highlight the importance of dairy foods in a balanced diet. But the extent of the nutritional benefits and potential of dairy to play a role in optimizing wellness, lowering risk of disease and managing diet-related diseases is not something readily understood by consumers.
“Including the recommended three daily servings of dairy foods as part of a healthy diet helps fulfill diverse nutrition and health needs for people at every life stage,” said Erin Coffield, RDN, LDN at National Dairy Council. “Dairy foods are nutrient-rich offering a host of health benefits and they are available in a variety of options like lactose-free to meet multicultural needs, making them a cornerstone of a holistic approach to health and wellness.”
Milk alone, is a powerful, concentrated source of essential nutrients needed for overall health and wellness. Delivering calcium, potassium, phosphorus, high-quality protein, selenium, zinc, vitamins A, B12, D and other essential nutrients, milk helps promote strong bones and teeth, maintain a healthy immune system, support muscle health and regulate metabolism, to name just a few of the benefits it has to offer. But there’s more, recent research from the University of Kansas Medical Center found milk can “potentially play a role in protecting the brain from oxidative stress.” The study showed that adults ages 60 to 89 who drank three cups of dairy milk a day boosted their brain’s levels of glutathione (GSH), the powerful antioxidant known to help with concentration and have neuroprotective effects to help with healthy aging.
While all dairy foods begin with nutrient-rich milk, cheese and yogurt are nutritional powerhouses in their own right. Not only for their nutrients but also due to the fermentation process in which they are made, transforming them into foods with additional bioactive health benefits.
“Fermented dairy foods, such as yogurt and cheese, are linked with reduced risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hypertension. The health benefits of fermented dairy are due to the unique combination of vitamins, minerals and bioactive compounds,” explained Dr. Christopher Cifelli at National Dairy Council. “Importantly, these fermented products are great options for those who experience difficulty digesting lactose.”
Together, cheese and yogurt both deliver calcium, protein and vitamin B12. And while cheese serves up a plethora of nutritional benefits, yogurt should be noted for being on par with milk in helping people reach their Daily Value (%DV) of nutrients in a single serving. It is particularly high in calcium, protein, vitamin B12, riboflavin and selenium.
Another standout feature of yogurt is its probiotic content. These beneficial bacteria are known for their positive impact on gut health, which in turn, affects overall wellness. Probiotics in yogurt help maintain a healthy balance of gut flora, essential for digestion, absorption of nutrients, immune health and even emerging potential to benefit mental health. Some studies suggest a link between probiotic intake and reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety, underscoring the gut-brain connection. Regular consumption of yogurt with live and active cultures can contribute to gut health and, by extension, help support a healthy immune system, which is linked to improved mental well-being.
“Yogurt and other dairy foods are so much more than just a tasty addition to meals and snacks; they are delicious and nutritious foods that help benefit healthy brains, bones and bodies, making them valuable allies in achieving nutrition and wellness goals,” said Coffield.
To learn more about what consumers really want and the role dairy products can play in meeting their needs, don’t miss: “What Consumers Really Want: Top health & wellness needs and trends for food & beverages.” Thursday, March 14th from 12:30-1:30pm in Marriott Ballroom Platinum 5. The first 50 attendees will receive a $20 Whole Foods gift card.
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