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Dairy

Dairy

What foods are included in the Dairy Group?

The Dairy Group includes milk, yogurt, cheese, lactose-free milk and fortified soy milk and yogurt. It does not include foods made from milk that have little calcium and a high fat content, such as cream cheese, sour cream, cream, and butter.

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How much dairy do you need?

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Nutrients and health benefits

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Non-dairy sources of calcium

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How much food from the Dairy Group is needed daily?

About 90% of Americans do not get enough dairy, therefore most individuals would benefit by increasing intake of fat-free or low-fat dairy, whether from milk (including lactose-free milk), yogurt, and cheese, or from fortified soy milk or yogurt. The amount of dairy foods you need each day depends on your age and can vary between 1 ½ to 2 cups for toddlers, 2 ½ cups for children under 10 and 3 cups for older children through adults. Recommended daily amounts are shown in the table below.

What counts as a cup in the Dairy Group?

In general, 1 cup of milk, yogurt, or soy milk, or 1 ½ ounces of natural cheese can be considered as 1 cup from the Dairy Group. The table below lists specific amounts that count as 1 cup in the Dairy Group towards your daily recommended intake.

More About the Dairy Group

Note: Click on the top row to expand the table. If you are on a mobile device, you may need to turn your phone to see the full table.

Daily Recommendation
Children 2-3 yrs 2 cups Women 19-30 yrs 3 cups
4-8 yrs 2½ cups 31-50 yrs 3 cups
Girls 9-13 yrs 3 cups 51+ yrs 3 cups
14-18 yrs 3 cups Men 19-30 yrs 3 cups
Boys 9-13 yrs 3 cups 31-50 yrs 3 cups
14-18 yrs 3 cups 51+ yrs 3 cups

  Amount That Counts as a Cup in the Dairy Group Common Portions and Cup Equivalents
Milk 1 cup milk  
1 half-pint container milk  
½ cup evaporated milk  
Yogurt 1 cup yogurt  
(8 fluid ounces)
1 small container (6 ounces) = ¾ cup eq
1 snack size container (4 ounces) = ½ cup eq
Cheese 1 ½ ounces hard cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss, Parmesan) 1 slice of hard cheese (about 21 grams) = ½ cup eq
⅓ cup shredded cheese  
1 ounce processed cheese (American) 1 slice of processed cheese (about 28 grams) = 1 cup eq
½ cup ricotta cheese  
2 cups cottage cheese ½ cup cottage cheese = ¼ cup eq
Milk-based desserts 1 cup pudding made with milk  
1 cup frozen yogurt  
1 ½ cups ice cream 1 scoop ice cream = ⅓ cup eq
Soy milk 1 cup calcium-fortified soy milk  
1 half-pint container calcium-fortified soy milk  

Why is it important to eat/drink dairy?

Consuming dairy products provides health benefits — especially building and maintaining strong bones. Foods in the Dairy Group provide nutrients that are vital for health and maintenance of your body. These nutrients include calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and protein.

Nutrients

The Dairy Group provides many nutrients including calcium, phosphorus, vitamin A, vitamin D (in products fortified with vitamin D), riboflavin, vitamin B12, protein, potassium, zinc, choline, magnesium, and selenium.

Nutrients

Calcium is used for building bones and teeth and in maintaining bone strength as you grow older. Dairy products are the main source of calcium in American diets. 

Nutrients

Many people do not get enough potassium. Diets rich in potassium may help to maintain healthy blood pressure. Dairy products, especially dairy milk and yogurt, and fortified soy milk, provide potassium.

Nutrients

Vitamin D functions in the body to maintain proper levels of calcium and phosphorous, thereby helping to build and maintain bones. Milk and soy milk that are fortified with vitamin D are good sources of this nutrient. Other sources include some fish such as salmon, and other foods fortified with vitamin D.

Nutrients

Milk products that are consumed in their low-fat or fat-free forms provide very little saturated fat.

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Health Benefits

Calcium and vitamin D are important nutrients at any age. Intake of dairy products that contain these nutrients help to:

  • Improve bone health especially in children and adolescents, when bone mass is being built.
  • Promote bone health and prevent the onset of osteoporosis in adults, most of whom do not do not get enough of these nutrients.

For those who choose not to consume dairy products

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For individuals who choose dairy alternatives, fortified soy milk and yogurt - which have calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin D added - are included as part of the Dairy Group because their nutrition content is similar to dairy milk and yogurt.

Other products sold as “milks” but made from plants (e.g., almond, rice, coconut, oat, and hemp “milks”) may contain calcium, but they are not included as part of the Dairy Group because their nutrition content is not similar to dairy milk and fortified soy milk.

There are calcium choices for those who do not consume dairy products, though they are not part of the Dairy Group. The amount of calcium that can be absorbed from these foods varies.

  • Calcium-fortified juices, cereals, breads, and plant based milk alternatives such as rice milk, or almond milk
  • Canned fish (sardines, salmon with bones)
  • Soybeans, soy products (tofu made with calcium sulfate, soy yogurt, tempeh), and some other beans
  • Some leafy greens (collard and turnip greens, kale, bok choy)

For more information, see the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025: Food Sources of Calcium.

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