Volume 82, Number 6 November/December 2011
Milk and milk products (cheese, yogurt) are tasty, versatile, convenient foods that make significant nutrient contributions to the diets of Americans (24,30,31), which supports their use as desirable snack choices. According to data from NHANES 2003-2006, intake of dairy foods (milk, cheese, yogurt) contributes only 10% of the daily calories in Americans’ diets on average, yet provides a significant percent of many essential nutrients, including 16% of potassium, 51% of calcium, and 58% of vitamin D – nutrients of public health concern identified by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (30,39). The Dietary Guidelines recommends increased intake of foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and low-fat and fat-free milk and milk products to help meet needs for the above nutrients as well as dietary fiber, another nutrient of public health concern (30). Milk is the number one food source of calcium, potassium, and vitamin D in the American diet (39,40). Unfortunately, most children and adults are not consuming the Dietary Guidelines’ recommended amounts of milk and milk products – 3 cups of low-fat or fat-free milk and milk products every day for Americans 9 years and older, 2 1/2 cups for children 4 to 8 years, and 2 cups for children ages 2 to 3 (30,41). A recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that among children and adolescents who drink milk, most (78%) do not consume low-fat (1%) or fat-free milk, the types of milk recommended by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines (30) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (42).
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Adding just one more serving of low-fat or fat-free dairy a day can help meet the 2010 Dietary Guidelines’ recommendations for dairy food intake and help close some of the nutrient gaps in Americans’ diets (43). Dairy products, either stand-alone or as a component of a snack, account for only 13% of all between-meal snacks for people 2 years and over; 18% for children 2 to 8 years (6). Increasing intake of dairy-based snacks can be a strategy to help consumers meet recommended dairy servings and recommended intakes of nutrients, particularly those that are limited in their diets. Recognizing that children need protein, vitamins, and minerals, especially calcium and phosphorus, to build strong bones and teeth, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry includes dairy foods such as cheese, yogurt, and chocolate milk among its recommended nutritious snacks (44).
There are numerous examples of nutrient-dense dairy snacks, including low-fat and fat-free white and flavored milks, low-fat cheeses, and low-fat and fat-free yogurts that are available as yogurt shakes, yogurt drinks, yogurt-in-a-tube, and Greek yogurt. Also, dairy foods can be combined or paired with other foods as tasty, nutritious snacks. Examples include low-fat milk mixed with fresh fruit and frozen in a popsicle container; individual portions of cheese in a variety of flavors packaged with whole grain crackers; cheese mixed with popcorn or pretzels; cheese and apple slices; and smoothies of blended yogurt and fresh fruit.
As consumers increasingly seek healthier foods and beverages, including snack options that fit within their nutrition intake goals (6,11-13), there is a growing market for “better-for-you” snack options that do not compromise taste or a sense of indulgence (7,15). To help meet this demand, dairy and dairy ingredients such as milk protein are being incorporated into snack products (45,46). For example, while yogurt itself is a nutritious snack, it also can be used as an ingredient such as a base for dips for vegetables (46). Likewise, cheese, a nutritious dairy food, can be used as an ingredient in dips, crackers, and other foods consumed as snacks (46).
More than one-third (39%) of consumers say they are trying to consume more protein, according to a recent survey of consumer attitudes toward food safety, nutrition and health (11). Diets higher in protein have been shown to increase satiety or feelings of fullness (47,48). In a recent survey of 495 adults, 86% of respondents agreed that protein provides a feeling of fullness (49). Research shows that milk proteins may have a unique role in contributing to weight management (50).
Milk proteins are of particular interest as an ingredient in snack foods and beverages because they can boost the protein content of foods to help people attain higher protein diets. A recent food expo displayed a variety of prototype snacks with milk proteins, including an on-a-stick frozen snack containing milk, milk protein concentrate, and whey protein; a high protein, lower sodium bite-sized breakfast snack; a high protein caramel for use in nutrition and energy bars; and a yogurt-based beverage containing high quality milk proteins and probiotics (46,51).
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