Photograph by Antonio Diaz
Photograph by Antonio Diaz

The Power of Protein Amidst a Global Food Crisis

President of National Dairy Council

This is sponsor content. Did you know Americans are at risk for hunger in every county in the United States? In fact, 1 in 6 Americans face hunger—a growing challenge impacting communities around the globe.

When we think of solving this, it can seem so simple from the outside looking in, but it’s actually quite complex.

We can increase food aid, produce higher yields to a certain extent and improve accessibility, but to truly alleviate worldwide hunger, there are multiple factors to contend with, depending on the country, such as water quality and availability, soil availability, heat for cooking and proper refrigeration for storage, among many others.

And when we look at the basic act of feeding those facing hunger, it’s more than just food, it’s about nutrient-rich foods—quality over quantity to replenish, nourish and enhance people’s overall health. Nutrients found in foods include carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals; water is also a nutrient, and all of these are critical to health. Let’s focus on one of these important nutrients—protein.

Studies show nearly 805 million people, or one in nine of the world’s population, are undernourished today. Protein is not only important to help replenish people facing undernourishment, but also critical in addressing population growth in developing countries as well as the increased protein consumption of a rising middle class.

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According to the United Nations, the global population will reach 9.6 billion by 2050 with a middle class growth of 3 billion. With this growth also comes the need to provide these additional people with healthy, nutritious and sustainable sources of food, including those containing protein.

Protein is an essential nutrient our bodies need daily, but as we know, not all proteins are created equally—high quality sources of protein such as milk, milk products and ingredients; eggs, beef, poultry, fish, etc., provide all the amino acids needed to build and maintain muscles and help the body function properly. While many of us understand the importance of protein, many are unaware that dairy is a source of high quality protein.

Dairy foods and ingredients (think milk, cheese, yogurt, powdered milk, whey protein powder and whey protein concentrate), can help feed those who are food insecure because they provide a high nutritional value. In the United States, a gallon of milk contains about 16 nutrient-rich 8-ounce servings and the cost per serving is about 25 cents, making it an affordable solution, especially given it provides a host of additional nutrients such as calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamins A, D and B12.

Few foods deliver dairy’s unique combination of nutrients in such an affordable, appealing and readily available way.

To help make dairy’s nutrition available to people globally, milk powder and whey protein are an integral part of food aid in developing countries. Not only does it fill a nutritional need, it also provides the convenience and functional shelf-life for efficient transportation and consumption. By removing the majority of the water, fluid milk is transformed into shelf-stable dry powders that can last up to 18 months (compared to fluid milk’s average 18-day shelf life). It can be stored and rehydrated as needed.

International demand for dairy products has grown so significantly lately that U.S. dairy farmers—among the world’s most efficient and sustainable—are actively making efforts to meet it. In response, there are new facilities opening in California, Nevada and Washington to meet the growing demand for milk powder and whey protein. These will help the United States increase its exports and meet the nutritional demands of those who are food insecure and an overall growing population.

There’s a massive gap to close to ensure everyone has access to safe, nutritious food. Globally and locally, we can do more. Food exists right in our communities, it’s just about bettering the distribution, which is why we partnered with Feeding America to help get more milk, and its nutrition, to Americans who need it most.

Feeding America found milk is among the top five most requested items, yet, on average, food bank clients receive less than one gallon of milk per person per year, much less than the 68 gallons needed to meet the Dietary Guidelines recommendation for 3 daily servings of milk and milk products.

This led to Feeding America, dairy farmers across the country and milk companies to create the Great American Milk Drive. This national program aims to elevate the issue of hunger, bring awareness of the need for milk in America’s food aid programs and provide people an easy way to help make an impact.

In only eight months, nearly 200,000 gallons of milk have been donated to American families in need, and that’s just the beginning.

Dairy foods are a vital part of a global food system, helping to nourish men, women and children so they can have the opportunity for enhanced health and better lives. That system needs to continue evolving to meet cultural needs, safety standards and conserve the use of finite natural resources (the reason dairy farmers are committed to reducing their carbon footprint by 25 percent by the year 2020). Dairy plays a fundamental role in this system today and in the future, and we can all play a part in helping provide dairy to those in need along the way.