Guest Columns

Dairy Research

Dairy research keeping pace with changing consumer

Katie Brown

Katie Brown is executive vice president of scientific, regulatory and nutrition affairs for the National Dairy Council. She is a guest columnist for Cheese Market News®.

I became a dietitian to help people realize their best selves through food and nutrition.

The good news is health and wellness remains a topic consumers are passionate about. They want to learn about it, and they want to succeed at it. The latest consumer data shows that about 50% of consumers report wellness is a top priority in their day-to-day lives.

Research is a critical foundation to the health and wellness equation, and for more than a century, National Dairy Council (NDC) has been the leading voice in dairy research and education, disseminating science-backed nutrition information to consumers and thought leaders. I credit the dairy farmers who in 1915 had the vision to begin a mission that my talented colleagues and I are proud to continue for the entire supply chain’s benefit.

Dairy research is more important than ever when you consider the ever-expanding expectations consumers have with their food choices. We very much are in a “food as medicine” era with people seeking options that deliver benefits that supercharge their digestive health and cardiovascular system. This is today’s modern concept of holistic wellness and consumers want to know it is grounded in sound science.

It’s always exciting when research takes dairy into new and even unexpected places. Take gut health, for example. I did a quick Google search on news related to gut health, and 55,000 stories popped up. A search for videos on the subject revealed 28 million results.

Dairy certainly plays a role in this discussion as one of the best ways to promote a healthy gut microbiome. Fermented foods, including many cheeses, yogurt and kefir, are growing in recognition as gut wellness superstars. Research also shows fermented foods likely play a role in reducing inflammation, among other health benefits.

• Heart health

That is just one part of the cheese-health connection. While people often think of cheese as an indulgent food, it absolutely fits into healthy eating patterns thanks to its eight essential nutrients for wellness: high-quality protein, calcium, phosphorus, selenium, iodine, riboflavin, niacin and vitamin B12.

And recent published research concludes cheese consumption offers positive heart health benefits, lowering risk of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease and stroke while finding no link with high blood pressure mortality. The amount of cheese associated with these benefits was about the equivalent of one daily serving of dairy, or about two slices or four cubes of cheese.

Whole milk dairy foods also have been in the spotlight following a new landmark study on heart health. This powerful proof point came from our research counterparts in Europe who conducted the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study. This truly was a global effort with an evaluation of 245,000 people from 80 countries across five continents.

The PURE healthy diet indicated six food groups associated with improved heart health: dairy, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and fish. Interestingly, the dairy foods included a mix of fat levels with the majority being whole milk dairy, such as cheese. The findings indicate that dairy foods, including whole milk options, play an important role in supporting heart health and can be encouraged in daily healthy eating patterns across global, diverse populations.

Finally, it is significant to note the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, which has long included dairy consumption, can be modified to include whole milk options as shown in a 2016 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The study not only found blood pressure lowering effects, but reductions in triglycerides with no significant impact on LDL cholesterol. This adds to the greater body of science suggesting that whole- and reduced-fat dairy consumption likely is not associated with cardiovascular disease as once thought, and in some cases has been shown to reduce its risk.

• Industry engagement

This holistic and modern wellness opportunity for dairy is front and center with the industrywide Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, which has more than 30 cheese companies at the table. The Innovation Center has formed a health and well-being committee that is chaired by David Ahlem, CEO and president of Hilmar Cheese Co. Inc.

Through David’s leadership and vision — coupled with the commitments of the other committee members — we are inspired to reimagine what the dairy sector can offer consumers as a holistic health and wellness solution.

David’s belief is there is nothing U.S. dairy can’t conquer when we unify pre-competitively through the Innovation Center. The committee is engaged with important priorities that seek to catapult dairy’s health and wellness legacy into new and exciting territories.

We’re fortunate to be working from a place of strength with a powerful portfolio of nutritious, delicious and affordable dairy food options for consumers.

The U.S. dairy community can unlock transformative good, be food first and reinforce our unique value as an option that people love. We can advance science, innovation, products and outreach to help people reach their goals for holistic health and well-being — now, next and into the future.

To learn more about the national dairy checkoff, visit or to reach us directly, send an email to


The views expressed by CMN’s guest columnists are their own opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of Cheese Market News®.

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