Butter, whey and other ingredients give finished products a natural, clean label positioning.

KANSAS CITY — Around the time McDonald’s started offering breakfast throughout the day, the company announced it was switching from using vegetable oil to real butter to grill eggs and breakfast meats, and to spread on toast, English muffins, biscuits and bagels. Recently, the company posted placards in its stores and on drive-thru menu boards touting the fact that “We cook with real dairy.” The fast-food chain’s goal is simple: To capitalize on the health halo that hovers over dairy.

McDonald’s switch to butter may have a “me, too” effect, with other companies following its example. This should be no surprise, as consumer demand for simple foods has product developers using many kitchen staple ingredients to keep recipes clean, delicious and nutritious. That’s what dairy ingredients deliver.

“Dairy products are extremely versatile and easy to use,” said Millie Wilson, registered dietician with My Fit Foods, Houston. “They can provide a significant amount of protein and fat, which aids in satiety or the sensation of feeling full. Dairy products can be used in almost any format and for the most part are fairly inexpensive and readily available.”

In many applications, dairy ingredients contribute various essential nutrients required to maintain health. Even butter is loaded with nutrients, including conjugated linoleic acid and vitamin A.

“Having dairy listed on an ingredient legend transfers all of dairy’s wholesomeness and health-promoting attributes to the product,” said Sarah Minasian, applications lab coordinator and research chef with the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, Madison, Wis. “The ingredients provide a clean-label read that people can understand and feel good about. People would much rather see ‘made with real butter’ on a baked goods package than ‘made with real hydrogenated fat.’”