As we enter a new decade, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate National Milk Day, on January 11th, than to highlight how the dairy industry has evolved over time. Dairy farming and milk consumption have been traced back 10,000 years and, to this day, milk remains a key component of our diet and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. What is it then that has helped milk stand the test of time?
To start, milk has remained a staple of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans due to the nine essential nutrients it provides and the health benefits that have been associated with its nutrient package. Numerous studies link milk and dairy foods to bone health and density, therefore decreasing the risk of osteoporosis. Calcium, potassium, and magnesium, minerals found in dairy foods, may play an important role in maintaining blood pressure and stroke prevention. Additionally, the powerful nutrient package in dairy may aid in the prevention of type 2 diabetes.
Lately, you may have noticed this nutritious beverage has been taking on some new forms. Examples of these include ultra-filtered milk– options like Fairlife®– that offers more protein and lower carbohydrates than traditional milk, high protein milk-based shakes geared towards athletes and probiotic enhanced beverages like kefir, a fermented milk drink. As a Registered Dietitian working for dairy farmers, it is exciting to see innovation in the dairy aisles and to know that highly nutritious milk makes it all possible.
In addition to the health benefits and innovation of dairy foods, another reason to celebrate on National Milk Day is the commitment of the dairy industry to the sustainable food system. Long before the carbon footprint was a concern, dairy farmers were environmental stewards. When data published in 2007 showed dairy farms contributed only 2% of the total greenhouse gases in the United States, dairy farmers made a commitment to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions even further–by 25 percent by 2020.
To accomplish this goal, farmers keep manure management, cow comfort, and cow nutrition a top priority. New technology has played a large role in helping with these priorities, including computerized bands (think Fitbit) that cows wear, methane digesters that turn methane from manure into clean energy that fuels the farm, and local communities and robotic milking machines.
Milk’s ability to remain relevant for thousands of years is a reflection of its strength as a sustainable food that not only contributes to human health, but also the health of our communities and environment. The dairy industry has made incredible progress in the past decade, I can’t wait to see what the next ten years hold!
Callie Yakubisin, RD