U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Dairy

Dairy

Move to low-fat or fat-free dairy milk or yogurt (or lactose-free dairy or fortified soy versions).

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.

Image
measuring cup
How much dairy do you need?

Learn more

Image
beating heart
Nutrients and health benefits

Learn more

Image
milk carton
Non-dairy sources of calcium

Learn more

How much food from the Dairy Group is needed daily?

The amount of dairy you need depends on your age, sex, height, weight, and level of physical activity. For women, the amount can also depend on whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding. 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. Find the right amount for you by getting your MyPlate Plan. For general recommendations by age, see 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.

 *These are general recommendations by age. Find the right amount for you by getting your MyPlate Plan.

Daily Recommendation*
Toddlers 12 to 23 months 1⅔ to 2 cups
Children 2-3 yrs 2 to 2½ cups
4-8 yrs 2½ cups
Girls 9-13 yrs 3 cups
14-18 yrs 3 cups
Boys 9-13 yrs 3 cups
14-18 yrs 3 cups
Women 19-30 yrs 3 cups
31-59 yrs 3 cups
60+ yrs 3 cups
Men 19-30 yrs 3 cups
31-59 yrs 3 cups
60+ yrs 3 cups

  Amount That Counts as 1 Cup in the Dairy Group
Milk

1 cup milk

1 half-pint container milk

½ cup evaporated milk

1 cup calcium-fortified soy milk

1 half-pint container calcium-fortified soy milk

Yogurt 1 cup yogurt (dairy or fortified soy)
Cheese

1 ½ ounces hard cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss, Parmesan)

⅓ cup shredded cheese

1 ounce processed cheese (American)

½ cup ricotta cheese

1 ¼ cup cottage cheese

2 ounces Queso fresco

2 slices Queso blanco

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.

Image
smoothie in a glass with a straw and a father pouring milk for kids breakfast bowls

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 get enough of these nutrients.

For those who choose not to consume dairy products

Image
father and son in food store isle

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 and calcium-fortified plant-based milk alternatives such as rice milk or almond milk
  • Canned fish (sardines, salmon with bones)
  • Tofu made with calcium sulfate
  • Tahini (sesame butter or paste)
  • Some leafy greens (collard and turnip greens, spinach, kale, bok choy)

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

Image
Meal plan worksheet surrounded by food

Food Group Gallery

Curious about the foods in the Dairy Group? What does a cup of dairy looks like? Check out the Food Group Gallery! This is also a great resource if you're trying to move to fat-free or low-fat dairy or you want to bump up the variety with something new.

Soy milk, lactose-free milks, queso blanco... they're all waiting for you in the Food Group Gallery!

Image
Start Simple app on phone and watch

Start Simple with MyPlate App

Build healthy eating habits one goal at a time! Download the Start Simple with MyPlate app today.

Learn more

Image
Alexa Speakers and Devices

MyPlate on Alexa

Get MyPlate nutrition tips for your baby or toddler on Amazon Alexa devices or the free Alexa app.

Learn more

Image
DGA logo

MyPlate.gov is based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025