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Checkoff Watch: Good news: Dairy foods are part of plant-based diets

Contributed by Jean Ragalie-Carr Published on 06 November 2018
Balanced diet

There has been a lot of talk about plant-based diets lately, and many dairy farmers have asked me what that means for dairy foods.

At National Dairy Council (NDC), which is managed by the checkoff’s Dairy Management Inc., we are heavily involved in these conversations, and the fact is: Dairy and other animal proteins are part of most plant-based diets. You see, plant-based is not exclusive to plants, rather plants are the foundation – and largely because people don’t eat enough of them.



Unfortunately, the public – and those who influence them – are often receiving mixed information from multiple and conflicting sources. NDC’s team of nutrition experts sees this as an opportunity. Founded in 1915, NDC has built a century of credibility providing solid science-based nutrition information that can be translated so it is easily understood by thought leaders and consumers alike.

In fact, the main healthy eating patterns identified by the 2015-2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a balanced diet based on plants, but it also includes the dairy food group and other animal sources of protein.

Dairy is a vital and important part of healthy eating patterns, and this includes plant-based diets. People absolutely can still enjoy milk, cheese, cottage cheese and yogurt in diets based on plants, which is information we continue to share with consumers and thought leaders.

The Dietary Guidelines recommendation is to eat more fruits and vegetables – but not at the exclusion of dairy. You may be surprised to know eight out of 10 people are not meeting their dairy food group recommendation, just like they are not meeting their vegetable food group recommendation.

Dairy is in its own food group because it provides nutrients that can be challenging to get from the other groups.


Carbon footprint?

Then there is the question of how animal agriculture impacts the environment. All foods require natural resources and will have a carbon footprint, so the important thing is to try to lessen that footprint through continuous improvement.

And when we talk about sustainable food systems, it’s not about just one component. You must be environmentally responsible as well as provide adequate nutrition for people and communities so they can survive and thrive.

To do this, we must look at the social, environmental and economic components. Social is the nutrition we’re providing per calorie to support health and well-being. Environmental includes the resources we use to achieve that through responsible production practices.

Economic is how it helps economies and communities thrive. We’re all learning what it means to be environmentally responsible and provide great nutrition and economic benefits at the same time for a balance of food systems.

What we do know is: Dairy can offer a return on our environmental investment with its package of essential nutrients that help nourish people and sustain communities.

We’ve noticed the global conversation about food changing from more than just nutrients on a plate to how the food got to the plate. So we evolved our NDC mission statement to read: NDC’s mission is to bring to life the dairy community’s shared vision of a healthy, happy, sustainable world – with science as its foundation.


We also knew it would be essential to join dietitians with farmers to have conversations about where food comes from. To facilitate that dialogue, we bring nutrition and health professionals to dairy farms to have conversations about how milk and dairy foods are produced. And we bring farmers to meetings with us, such as the School Nutrition Association annual conference.

Both experiences provide thought leaders the opportunity to engage one-on-one with farmers and to see and hear firsthand the care taken of cows and the land as well as the positive contributions dairy makes to communities.

Go-to resource

NDC is known among nutrition and health professionals and organizations as a go-to resource for the best available science and data on dairy’s role in health and sustainable food systems.

The investment dairy farmers have made in our research for more than 100 years continues to earn us a place at the table having and, in some cases, leading conversations with other credible organizations and key thought leaders on important topics such as children’s health, food and nutrition trends, sustainable food systems, disease reduction and healthy lifestyles for all ages.

Because of farmers’ long-standing investment, NDC continues to bring forth credible and forward-thinking information, based on science, that positively impacts dairy and the work of farmers.

There is so much information available today, and often too much for people to cut through the clutter to see the helpful and factual details. So NDC is entering conversations where consumers live, in ways they are comfortable with, to talk about dairy and how it is produced so they can better understand how it fits into plant-based eating styles good for people, communities and the planet.

That’s one more way the dairy checkoff is working on your behalf.  end mark

PHOTO: … the fact is: Dairy and other animal proteins are part of most plant-based diets. You see, plant-based is not exclusive to plants, rather plants are the foundation – and largely because people don’t eat enough of them. Getty Images.

If you have questions or comments, please contact us (Dairy Mangement Inc).

Jean Ragalie-Carr, RDN, LDN, FAND, is president of National Dairy Council and executive vice president of Dairy Management Inc., the domestic and international planning and management organization that works to increase sales of and demand for dairy products and ingredients on behalf of America’s dairy farmers and dairy importers.

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.

Jean Ragalie-Carr
  • Jean Ragalie-Carr

  • President
  • National Dairy Council