Updated federal dietary guidelines - designed to help consumers choose healthy foods in the face of the obesity epidemic - emphasize low-fat and fat-free dairy products.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines, released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services Jan. 31, also call for consumption of more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and less fats, sugar and sodium.

According to the report, there is strong evidence for adults (and moderate evidence for children and adolescents) that milk and other dairy products do not play a “special role” in weight management.

“Although not independently related to body weight, these foods are important sources of nutrients in healthy eating patterns,” the report states.

The guidelines single out raw milk, a hot-button issue for smaller dairy operations that tout the health benefits of unpasteurized milk.

“Some foods (such as milks, cheeses and juices that have not been pasteurized and undercooked animal foods) pose high risk for foodborne illness and should be avoided,” according to an executive summary of the document.

The new guidelines stress calorie management and more physical activity, consuming nutrient-dense foods and beverages.

Key recommendations include:

· Increase intake of fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, or fortified soy beverages;

· Reduce calories from solid fats and added sugars;

· Consume less than 300 mg. of cholesterol a day;

· Cut sodium to less than 2,300 mg. — or less, in cases of hypertension and diabetes; and

· Reduce consumption of sugary drinks and eat more whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

International Dairy Foods Association response

The IDFA emphasized the importance of meeting daily servings of low-fat or fat-free milk and milk products. Most Americans fail to meet these recommendations, even though they have been previously established by the DGA and supported by independent health organizations.

Establishing good milk drinking habits is important to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans who note those who consume milk at an early age are more likely to do so as adults. The U.S. dairy industry and the federal government urge most Americans to add one more serving of low-fat and fat-free dairy products each day to fulfill the daily serving recommendations.

According to the DGA, the consumption of dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt are linked to improved bone health and associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and lower blood pressure in adults.

The DGA recommended dairy for those who follow vegetarian diets because milk and other dairy foods supply essential nutrients that can be hard to get from other foods.