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.
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.
|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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Milk products that are consumed in their low-fat or fat-free forms provide very little saturated fat.
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 get enough of these nutrients.
For those who choose not to consume dairy products
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.