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Checkoff Watch: Dairy foods, plant foods really are better together

Contributed by Sally Cummins Published on 15 March 2021
fruit bowl

As a dietitian, the concept of consuming a balanced diet for better health is at my core. We understand different food groups provide unique nutrients, tastes and textures, and that there is plenty of room on the plate for dairy and other nutritious food groups.

This has been at the core of National Dairy Council’s mission for more than 100 years.

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However, many of today’s consumers, including younger generations, aren’t following the concept of “balanced,” and they fall short of meeting daily recommendations for dairy. Maybe surprisingly to you, they also aren’t eating their fruits and vegetables. On the surface, these nutrition deficits may not seem like a rallying point for the dairy and fruit and vegetable industries.

Then again, they should be.

This was the premise for a relationship National Dairy Council (NDC) began with Produce for Better Health (PBH) in 2019. Our organizations take the approach that we’re “better together,” sort of like broccoli and cheese.

First, a little history about PBH. It was founded in 1991 and represents more than 400 growers, shippers, packers, processors, merchandisers, commodity boards, trade associations, health professionals and supermarkets. In 2005, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assumed management of its 5 A Day for Better Health program and they co-chair a partnership of government agencies, non-profit organizations and industry working to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables.

PBH carries the sort of clout and reach that can only benefit people’s exposure to dairy and healthy eating. The organization has an army of social media followers and many health and wellness professionals turn to PBH as a trusted resource. It’s important to note that while PBH endorses fruits and vegetables in the diet, it does not do so through the elimination of dairy.

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Shared support of DGA

PBH, like NDC, supports the newly released 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), which includes dairy foods, fruits and vegetables in its three recommended healthy eating patterns. The Healthy Vegetarian pattern includes three daily servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy.

And while you’ll find non-dairy recipes on PBH’s website, there also are many featuring the goodness of real dairy. For example, during last year’s National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day, PBH offered ways to incorporate fruits and vegetables into this classic staple, among them a sun-dried tomato spinach grilled cheese recipe featuring provolone. The site also has a great veggie mac-and-cheese casserole recipe.

NDC and PBH collaborated over the last year on outreach efforts. Highlights include:

  • Social media engagement during National Dairy Month and October using media-savvy registered dietitians – who are ambassadors for PBH and NDC – to educate consumers on dairy and plants via the #HaveAPlantwithDairy initiative. This included a content series on PBH’s website and a Facebook live event on its platform, which reaches more than 1 million consumers. There also were multiple posts on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter that generated more than 3.7 million impressions in October.

  • NDC and PBH are co-authoring a paper on the complementary roles of plant and animal-sourced foods in dietary guidance. The paper’s aim is to elevate the “better together” roles of plant and animal foods and evolve the current dialogue.

Unexpected opportunities

Years ago, working with an organization such as PBH might not have been on NDC’s radar. But it’s important that we think of checkoff strategies and opportunities in unexpected places.

Groups such as PBH allow us to reach consumers who we might not previously have with a message that it isn’t about a single food group but rather a combination of foods and flavors. It’s another opportunity to showcase dairy’s many health benefits and how our community produces these foods in a way that is good for people and the planet.

When it comes down to it, our missions aren’t so different. Both organizations are based on the principles that the sound science behind good nutrition leads to better health, and that is made possible because of America’s farmers, whether they milk cows or grow crops.

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Together, we’re a power couple. We carry healthy halos for the many benefits our foods provide, and that’s a message that fits together on any plate.  end mark

Courtesy photo.

To learn more about your national dairy checkoff, visit U.S. Dairy or send a request to join our Dairy Checkoff Farmer Group on Facebook. To reach us directly, send an email to Talk to the checkoff.

Sally Cummins
  • Sally Cummins

  • Vice President, Scientific Affairs and Outreach
  • National Dairy Council

Your Dairy Checkoff in Action – The following update is provided by Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), which manages the national dairy checkoff program on behalf of America’s dairy farmers and dairy importers. DMI is the domestic and international planning and management organization responsible for increasing sales of and demand for dairy products and ingredients.

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