Cheese Nutrition Corner

Patricia A. Groziak, MS, RD

Making Smart Choices at the Supermarket Shelf

Pat is the Executive Director of Nutrition and Wellness for GolinHarris, located in the Chicago office. Pat has a B.S. in Foods and Nutrition from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana and a M.S. in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She is a registered dietitian and a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

At a time of growing concern about the health of our nation, making nutritious food choices has never been more important—and many of these choices are made at your local supermarket shelf! For the first time in 20 years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing changes to the Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods and beverages that will make it even easier to make healthier food choices while navigating the grocery store aisles.

A lot has changed in the past 20 years. Not only is there more scientific evidence available on how and what we eat affects our health, but how we use nutrition information has also changed. Findings from a recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture report that more Americans than ever before are interested in what's on the nutrition labels of the foods they purchase—about 40 percent of working-age adults and nearly 60 percent of older adults look at the nutrition labels most or all of the time when shopping.

The major proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts label include updates to the recommended Daily Values (DV) of some nutrients based on new nutrition science, changes in serving size requirements, and a refreshed design that will emphasize certain elements such as calories in larger type and servings in bolder type. Here’s how some of the proposed changes would affect dairy products.

Increase in the Daily Value for calcium. Calcium is an essential nutrient important for optimal bone health. Unfortunately, it is also a nutrient that is lacking in the diets of children and adults. Milk and cheese are the leading food sources of calcium in the American diet, and consuming three daily servings of dairy foods is an easy way to achieve an adequate intake of calcium to help build stronger bones and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. The proposal calls for an increase in the recommended DV for calcium from its current amount of 1,000 mg to 1,300 mg per day, and dairy foods would continue to qualify as good or excellent sources of calcium.

Require Daily Values for vitamin D and potassium. Like calcium, Americans are not consuming enough vitamin D or potassium, which are both low enough in the American diet to be considered as nutrients of public health concern. Potassium plays a role in lowering blood pressure, and vitamin D, along with calcium, is important for bone health. The proposal calls for both of these nutrients to be declared on the Nutrition Facts panel, and milk is an important source of these essential nutrients.

No change in the Daily Value for protein. Choosing high-quality protein sources can help benefit a variety of health and wellness goals. Dairy foods—milk, cheese and yogurt—are sources of high-quality protein that offer convenient options to help meet protein needs. As the DV for protein remains unchanged, most dairy products can continue to make existing claims as good or excellent sources of protein.

Decrease in the Daily Value (DV) for sodium. Sodium is a nutrient that is overconsumed in the American diet, with over 75 percent of the sodium intake coming from processed foods. The modest suggested decrease in the DV for sodium from 2,400 mg to 2,300 mg is consistent with other expert recommendations that advise Americans to reduce their consumption of sodium as part of a healthy diet. Milk, cheese and yogurt are nutritious choices that fit into a variety of healthy eating patterns, and low-fat dairy foods are part of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet which is recommended to help lower blood pressure.

Changes in serving sizes. The nutrition information on the food label is based on serving size, and the proposal recommends that actual serving sizes be expressed in household units, along with the total number of servings per container. And as the portion sizes of some foods have gotten larger over the years, serving size changes are proposed for about 17 percent of food categories in order to reflect the amounts that people are currently eating and drinking. The serving size for milk (one cup) and cheese (one slice, one stick, ¼ cup shredded) would remain the same; the serving size for yogurts would decrease from eight ounces to six ounces, the size commonly sold at retail.

While it will take some time before new Nutrition Facts labels appear on supermarket shelves, the proposed changes represent a step forward in making it easier for Americans to make nutrition-minded choices for themselves and their families. In the meantime, keep making 3-Every-Day® of Dairy part of your nutrient-rich, balanced diet!

Get the Real Facts

  • Slidetext

    If you are lactose intolerant, you do not need to avoid cheese.

    When cheese is made, 96-98 percent of the lactose in the milk is removed, so cheese can be an important source of calcium for people with lactose intolerance. Natural cheeses such as Cheddar, Colby, Monterey Jack, Mozzarella, and Swiss contain minimal amounts of lactose.

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    You can eat cheese if you're following a gluten-free diet.

    Natural cheeses are gluten-free.

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    Natural cheese is made with 4 ingredients.

    Natural cheese is made from four basic ingredients: milk, salt, starter culture (“good” bacteria) and a natural enzyme called rennet, which separates curds from whey.

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    Cheese is a source of protein.

    Cheese provides a source of high-quality protein. High-quality protein, or complete protein, contains all the essential amino acids in the appropriate amounts needed by the body. Emerging research continues to support the important role of high-quality protein in promoting optimal health.

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    Cheese is a food that can fit into many healthful diet plans.

    Cheese is a nutrient-rich food available in a wide variety of forms and flavors that fit easily into many healthful meal plans, including the Mediterranean, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), diabetic, gluten free, vegetarian, and low lactose.

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    Cheese is not a major source of sodium in the American diet.

    The majority of sodium in the U.S. diet (92%) comes from sources other than cheese. Cheese contributes only 8% of the sodium.4

    4. Hentges E. Sources of sodium in the food supply. Paper presented at the Institute of Medicine Committee on Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake. Information-Gathering Workshop; 2009; Washington, D.C.