The new year is marked by resolutions, often about healthier lifestyles. A new series backed by Fonterra looks at the nutritional and lifestyle benefits of dairy – and at some of the old views now being slowly discarded.

The Wall Street Journal headline ran over two lines: Grass-Fed Milk Is Taking Off With Health-Conscious Shoppers. It was a sign of things to come.

That was in 2014 - a story about how shoppers were prepared to pay more for grass-fed milk (many cows in the US eat feed derived from corn) because it was considered healthier.

Now, an article on the Gallagher Group's website relates how US dairy retail supplier Organic Valley (the one highlighted in the WSJ two years ago) is enjoying an 82 per cent dollar growth in their grass-fed yoghurt, more than three times that of non-grass-fed yoghurts. Their Grassmilk brand is the top-selling grass-fed dairy brand in the US, experiencing double-digit growth since its launch in 2012.

If this causes a wry smile on the face of New Zealand dairy farmers (New Zealand cows are about 85 per cent grass-fed annually and the benefits of good pasture in good-tasting dairy have been long hailed), it is also a signal the world is changing its mind on some old, long-held views.

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In the US, about US$45 billion is spent on organic or healthy food every year with growth predicted at a compounded annual rate of 16 per cent through 2020. Globally, the market for organic, functional, non-allergenic and better-for-you foods will reach US$1 trillion this year, according to CNBC.com in August.

In another illustration of this shift, the Sydney Morning Herald, in their predictions for the top 5 nutrition trends for 2017 last month, turned to top Australian PhD-qualified nutritionist, author and health presenter Dr Joanne McMillan.

Along with meat-free foods, functional foods (including horseradish, fenugreek, ginger, turmeric, apple cider vinegar and coconut oil), and 'clean eating' (instead of detoxing), the pointer to better nutrition included a section on balance, sub-titled 'Back from the brink'.

It talked about the need to 'bring balance back' from totalitarian regimes like no fat, no sugar and other diets which demonise certain food groups.

Reacting to the global movement of treating our bodies with respect without the need for denial or calorie-counting and embracing whole foods (food as minimally altered or processed as possible), McMillan said: "I think dairy will make a comeback with all the good news on dairy fat not being associated with heart disease*."

There are two main reasons for increased attention being paid to dairy and full-fat dairy - science and consumers.

Many scientists are beginning to re-think nutrition, shifting away from the old thinking that saturated fats (as found in dairy) should be avoided and that the rush to 'low-fat everything' may have been misguided. In fact, in some instances, what we replaced saturated fats with may have been worse.

Consumers are another force driving renewed interest in whole foods and dairy.

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Kiwi 'global baker' Dean Brettschneider - a man whose baking business empire extends from London to Denmark to Shanghai and Singapore - says consumers are seeking enhanced flavour: "I do a lot of consulting around the world, for big supermarket outfits like Tesco and to the manufacturers who supply them. What I am hearing is more and more markets want butter in their baking now.

"That's because they are hearing their customers wanting wholesome, honest, clean food.

Around the world, people are looking for the experiences their grandmother used to give them - simple stuff which tastes good and they prefer the taste of butter."

Then there's the sports world. High Performance Sport New Zealand (HPSNZ) says milk is "bursting with nutrition" and for athletes can be used as a sports food in a range of exercise options. It says milk contains more than 15 nutrients and has a variety of health benefits, including vitamins and minerals to support the immune system, nutrients for recovery from exercise, calcium for strong bones and water and electrolytes for hydration.

A research study led by Emma Cockburn, a senior lecturer in sport and physiology at Middlesex University in Britain, found people who drank milk after training were able to exercise longer in their next session than people who had sports drinks or water.

A Birmingham University study claimed milk as the 'ultimate gym drink'. In 2015 research for a BBC show, Britain's Favourite Foods: Are They Good For You?, Professor Alice Roberts and students exercised together before rehydrating with three different drinks - milk, water and a sports drink.

Milk stayed in the system for longer than water and the sports drink.

*Sources for "good news" about dairy include Alexander DD, Bylsma LC, Vargas AJ et al. (2016) Dairy consumption and CVD: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Brit J Nutr 115:737-750. Qin LQ, Xu JY, Han SF et al. (2015) Dairy consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease: an updated meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 24(1):90-100

NOTE: As with all nutrients, fat should be eaten in moderation, reflecting nutrition and energy needs of the individual and as part of a healthy diet and active lifestyle. -Fonterra