Researchers at CardiffUniversity in the United Kingdom have found that increased intake of milk and other dairy products can reduce the risk in men for metabolic syndrome — a condition defined as having two or more of the following: obesity, hypertension and disturbed glucose and insulin metabolism.

It’s just one of the many items we have run in recent years describing the health benefits of dairy products. (We ran the metabolic-syndrome item July 18 in our Dairy Alert e-newsletter. The research was first reported in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.)

Upon reviewing the litany of articles favorable to dairy products, it becomes obvious that milk, cheese and yogurt have extraordinary health benefits. 

Yet, in today’s world, where many consumers are facing an obesity crisis, those benefits are often overlooked in a quest to reduce calories.  

Look at what happened earlier this year in the United Kingdom. Ofcom, the government agency that regulates broadcasters in the UK, introduced a new set of rules designed to crack down on junk-food advertisements on children’s programming. Among the “junk food” items banned: cheese.

Yes, cheese. The Food Standards Agency in the UK identified foods that are high in fat, sugar or salt, based on a 100-gram serving. Something about cheese got caught in the FSA net — perhaps total fat or calories in 100 grams (or 3.5 ounces), which is a fairly ambitious serving size to begin with. 

Incredibly, the new rules in the UK do not apply to diet cola — a product devoid of nutritional value. Diet-cola manufacturers can continue to advertise to children.    

No wonder consumers are confused.

Part of the reason is food labeling. Food companies are putting anything they can on their packages to try to convince consumers that their products are “low-calorie” or “low-fat.” The companies know the nation is in an obesity crisis, and they want to do everything they can to be on the right side of the issue. 

With so many competing claims in the marketplace, government agencies are now evaluating what’s out there and considering whether one approach should be used to help consumers make more informed choices. To facilitate the process, the Nutrient-Rich Foods Coalition (made up of the National Dairy Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and other groups) is providing input and looking at a science-based approach to total nutrient value.  

“Instead of being pejorative and saying there is ‘good’ food and ‘bad’ food, we want to educate people on the nutrient value of the food,” said Tom Gallagher, CEO of Dairy Management Inc. (which  manages the dairy-checkoff program), at a news briefing on July 18.

Hopefully, consumers will see the “big picture” rather than having their food choices determined for them solely on the basis of calories.