It’s understandable that when a columnist (me) takes a dairy food marketer to task, dairy industry supporters will take issue — and some of their criticisms are right on the money.
If you ever decide to write a regular column — commentary, blogpost, opinion piece, however you label it — be prepared for a near-daily dose of vitriol. Comes with the territory.
A recent column (“A beef with yogurt”), however, generated some thoughtful, well-reasoned comments that deserve a reply.
To briefly summarize: I argued that although yogurt — like milk, cheese and butter — is a perfectly healthy, nutritious food, commercial marketers have compromised the category by adding excessive sugar (check for yourself; nutritional labels don’t lie) and worse, by capitalizing on USDA’s misguided efforts to force low-fat foods on the public by pushing low- and nonfat brand lines.
Turning an otherwise healthy food into a sugar-loaded disaster is par for the course for most food processors, and taking advantage of mainstream nutritional advice to push your products is the American way.
So the “beef” I’ve got is only partially aimed at brand-name yogurt marketers and not at all on dairy farmers. My ire was primarily directed at USDA and its misguided Dietary Guidelines. I want to make that clear.
Many readers didn’t see it that way, however. For example, one commenter wrote that, “If a corporation wants to capitalize on dairy farmers’ products, it is the corporation’s responsibility to pass along and truthfully promote those products that have the same balance and quality that the farmer produces.”
He continued, “To be absolutely sure of getting non-altered products, we also buy organic plain whole-fat yogurt [and] we also milk our own Jersey cow.”
There’s no response to that statement, other than to say, “Amen, brother!”
Now, to the criticisms.
A reasonable critique
Another commenter wrote, “Why not encourage yogurt manufacturers to improve their products to a product which is more nutritious? Naming manufacturers and trashing their marketing in such a boldfaced manner could snowball into yet another misguided and unintended nutrition train wreck.”
I wish I had a fraction of that kind of clout, but I get the point. What prompted the column, to be clear, was the receipt of an unsolicited marketing packet from a company (Dannon) touting the high-protein, low-fat benefits of its product lines. You reach out to the media hoping they’ll disseminate your marketing pitch, you’re fair game for rebuttal.
I understand why the commenter asked, “Why trash part of our own industry at what could be the expense of the American dairymen? Your point could have been accomplished in a much more constructive manner. Tearing apart our own Industry from within only appears as stupid to the consumer.”
But my goal wasn’t to trash the industry, it was to refute what I believe is seriously ill-advised nutritional recommendations from the “experts” who are supposed to be providing sound advice on what constitutes a healthy diet. And most people with whom I shared the column didn’t think it was stupid. They were shocked to find out that a typical serving of commercial yogurt has 75 percent of its calories from sugar.
So much for the notion that consumers read the labels.
On that note, however, one commenter made an excellent point, writing, “Let’s take a step back here and (gasp) think. Even skim milk has sugar (gasp!) . . . BECAUSE LACTOSE IS A SUGAR. Skim milk gets 50% of its calories from sugar. Whole milk gets about 32% [of] calories from sugar. Yes, many of the popular yogurts contain added sugar, and too much of it. But Mr. Murphy, please get a grip. Also, I’d be pretty hesitant to blast dairy like that. They do supply a lot of cattle for our side.”
Love the ALL CAPS, and to be fair, it’s true: whole milk does provide about 30 percent of total calories as lactose. But lactose is a natural component of milk, along with the 50 percent of its calories that come from butterfat. The commercial products packed into the nation’s supermarket dairy cases, however, offer as many as 75 percent of the calories from sugar. Point is, yogurt shouldn’t have the fat skimmed off and added sugar dumped in, and then have marketers pretend it’s still a high-protein, “natural” food product people can feel good about eating.
Finally, one commenter summed up the point I was trying to make quite succinctly.
“It is frustrating to shop in grocery stores and find that a majority of the yogurts are no-fat options with high sugar in nearly all of these products,” he wrote. “For consumers like myself who are seeking to avoid products with added sugar, much more attention should be paid to educating the public about the benefits of eating natural dairy products with the butterfat included. With the recent information debunking [the Ancel Keys] hypothesis of the diet-heart-cholesterol connections, the dairy industry needs to step up and start providing more products that align with truly healthy eating.”
Couldn’t have said it any better.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.