Formula Medical Group
Apple Valley, CA

James Krider, MD

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Dairy Products

Serving size of dairy prodcuts.

Why is it important to eat dairy products?

Tips to help you eat dairy products.

What foods are included in the milk, yogurt, and cheese (milk) group?

All fluid milk products and many foods made from milk are considered part of this food group. Foods made from milk that retain their calcium content are part of the group, while foods made from milk that have little to no calcium, such as cream cheese, cream, and butter, are not. Most milk group choices should be fat-free or low-fat.

Dairy products serving guide: one serving is

  • milk (fat-free or low-fat) – 1 cup; 1 half-pint container; 1/2 cup evaporated mild
  • yogurt (fat-free or low-fat) – 1 cup or regular 8 ounce container
  • Low-fat cheese – 1 ½ ounce hard cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss, parmesan); 1/3 cup shredded cheese; 2 ounce processed (American); ½ cup ricotta; 2 cups cottage cheese
  • Milk-based desserts (fat-free or low-fat) – 1 cup pudding made from milk; 1 cup frozen yogurt; 1 ½ cups ice cream

Selection Tips

Choose fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese. If you choose milk or yogurt that is not fat-free, or cheese that is not low-fat, the fat in the product counts as part of the discretionary calorie allowance.
If sweetened milk products are chosen (flavored milk, yogurt, drinkable yogurt, desserts), the added sugars also count as part of the discretionary calorie allowance.
For those who are lactose intolerant, lactose-free and lower-lactose products are available. These include hard cheeses and yogurt. Also, enzyme preparations can be added to milk to lower the lactose content. Calcium-fortified foods and beverages such as soy beverages or orange juice may provide calcium, but may not provide the other nutrients found in milk and milk products.

Health benefits and nutrients

Consuming milk and milk products provides health benefits—people who have a diet rich in milk and milk products can reduce the risk of low bone mass throughout the life cycle. Foods in the milk group provide nutrients that are vital for health and maintenance of your body. These nutrients include calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and protein.

Health benefits

  • Diets rich in milk and milk products help build and maintain bone mass throughout the lifecycle. This may reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
  • The intake of milk products is especially important to bone health during childhood and adolescence, when bone mass is being built.
  • Diets that include milk products tend to have a higher overall nutritional quality.

Food sources of the nutrients in bold can be found in the Dietary Guidelines. Click on the nutrient name to link to the food sources table.

  • Calcium rich nutrients Calcium is used for building bones and teeth and in maintaining bone mass. Milk products are the primary source of calcium in American diets. Diets that provide 3 cups or the equivalent of milk products per day can improve bone mass.
  • Diets rich in potassium may help to maintain healthy blood pressure. Milk products, especially yogurt and fluid milk, provide potassium.
  • Vitamin D functions in the body to maintain proper levels of calcium and Potassium rich nutrientsphosphorous, thereby helping to build and maintain bones. Milk that is fortified with vitamin D is a good source of this nutrient. Other sources include vitamin D-fortified yogurt and vitamin D-fortified ready-to-eat breakfast cereals.
  • Milk products that are consumed in their low-fat or fat-free forms provide little or no solid fat.

Why is it important to make fat-free or low-fat choices from the milk group?
Choosing foods from the milk group that are high in saturated fats and cholesterol can have health implications. Diets high in saturated fats raise “bad” cholesterol levels in the blood. The “bad” cholesterol is called LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. High LDL cholesterol, in turn, increases the risk for coronary heart disease. Many cheeses, whole milk, and products made from them are high in saturated fat. To help keep blood cholesterol levels healthy, limit the amount of these foods you eat. In addition, a high intake of fats makes it difficult to avoid consuming more calories than are needed.

Tips for making wise choices

  • Include milk as a beverage at meals. Choose fat-free or low-fat milk.
  • If you usually drink whole milk, switch gradually to fat-free milk, to lower saturated fat and calories. Try reduced fat (2%), then low-fat (1%), and finally fat-free (skim).
  • If you drink cappuccinos or lattes—ask for them with fat-free (skim) milk.
  • Add fat-free or low-fat milk instead of water to oatmeal and hot cereals
  • Use milk products as dip Use fat-free or low-fat milk when making condensed cream soups (such as cream of tomato).
  • Have fat-free or low-fat yogurt as a snack.
  • Make a dip for fruits or vegetables from yogurt.
  • Make fruit-yogurt smoothies in the blender.
  • For dessert, make chocolate or butterscotch pudding with fat-free or low-fat milk.
  • Top cut-up fruit with flavored yogurt for a quick dessert.
  • Top casseroles, soups, stews, or vegetables with shredded low-fat cheese.
  • Top a baked potato with fat-free or low-fat yogurt.

Keep it safe to eat

  • Avoid raw (unpasteurized) milk or any products made from unpasteurized milk.
  • Chill (refrigerate) perishable food promptly and defrost foods properly. Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared food and leftovers as soon as possible. If food has been left at temperatures between 40° and 140° F for more than two hours, discard it, even though it may look and smell good.
  • Separate raw, cooked and ready-to-eat foods.

For those who choose not to consume milk products

  • If you avoid milk because of lactose intolerance, the most reliable way to get the health benefits of milk is to choose lactose-free alternatives within the milk group, such as cheese, yogurt, or lactose-free milk, or to consume the enzyme lactase before consuming milk products.
  • Calcium choices for those who do not consume milk products include
    • Calcium fortified juices, cereals, breads, soy beverages, or rice beverages
    • Canned fish (sardines, salmon with bones) soybeans and other soy products (soy-based beverages, soy yogurt, tempeh), some other dried beans, and some leafy greens (collard and turnip greens, kale, bok choy). The amount of calcium that can be absorbed from these foods varies.


adapted from the USDA

This article was last reviewed March 9, 2006 by Dr. James Krider.


Diet Plan

Starting the lifestyle
Meats & Beans
Nuts & oils
Discretionary calories

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