Dairy/Milk Products

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Before you eat, think about what and how much food goes on your plate or in your cup or bowl. 

Over the day, include a variety of foods from all 5 food groups using MyPlate as your guide to assure you get the nutrients you need:

  • Vegetables & Fruits: Make half your plate vegetables and fruits
  • Grains: Make at least half of your grain servings, whole grains
  • Dairy: Move to low fat or fat free milk and yogurt
  • Protein: Vary your meats and use dry beans, nuts, or fish

All fluid milk products and many foods made from milk are considered part of the Dairy food group. Keep in mind, foods made from milk that retain their calcium content are part of the group, but foods made from milk that have little to no calcium, such as cream cheese, cream, and butter, are not. Calcium-fortified soymilk (soy beverage) is also part of the Dairy Group.

MyPlate Food Guide:
Vegetables Fruits Grains Dairy Protein Foods
Eat more red, orange, and dark-green veggies like tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and broccoli in main dishes. Use fruits as snacks, salads, and desserts. At breakfast, top your cereal with bananas or strawberries; add blueberries to pancakes. Substitute whole-grain choices for refined-grain breads, bagels, rolls, breakfast cereals, crackers, rice, and pasta. Choose skim (fat-free) or 1% (low-fat) milk. They have the same amount of calcium and other essential nutrients as whole milk, but less fat and calories. Eat a variety of foods from the protein food group each week, such as seafood, beans, peas and nuts as well as lean meats, poultry, and eggs.
Add beans or peas to salads (kidney or chickpeas), soups (split peas or lentils), and side dishes (pinto or baked beans), or serve as a main dish. Buy fruits that are dried, frozen, and canned (in water or 100% juice), as well as fresh fruits. Check the ingredients list on product labels for the words “whole” or “whole grain” before the grain ingredient name. Top fruit salads and baked potatoes with low-fat, plain yogurt. Twice a week, make seafood the protein on your plate.
Fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables all count. Choose “reduced sodium” or “no-salt-added” canned veggies. Select 100% fruit juice. Choose products that name a whole grain first on the ingredients list. If you are lactose intolerant, try lactose-free milk or fortified soymilk. Choose lean meats and ground beef that are at least 90% lean.
Trim or drain fat from meat and remove skin from poultry to cut fat and calories.
For a adult 2,000-calorie daily food plan, you need the amounts below from each food group. To find amounts personalized for you, go to ChooseMyPlate.gov.
Eat 2 ½ cups every day Eat 2 cups every day Eat 6 ounces every day Eat 3 cups every day Eat 5 ½ ounces every day
What counts as a cup? What counts as a cup? What counts as a ounce? What counts as a cup? What counts as a ounce?
1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or 100% vegetable juice; 2 cups of leafy salad greens 1 cup of raw or cooked fruit or 100% fruit juice; ½ cup dried fruit 1 slice of bread; ½ cup of cooked rice, cereal, or pasta; 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal 1 cup of milk, yogurt, or fortified soymilk; 1½ ounces natural or 2 ounces processed cheese 1 ounce of lean meat, poultry, or fish; 1 egg; 1 Tbsp peanut butter; ½ ounce nuts or seeds; ¼ cup beans or peas

Health Benefits of Dairy Products

Consuming dairy products provides health benefits, such as:

  • Improved bone health which may reduce the risk of osteoporosis and is especially important to bone health during childhood and adolescence, when bone mass is being built
  • Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, and with lower blood pressure in adults

Foods in the Dairy Group provide nutrients that are vital for health and maintenance of your body. These nutrients include:

  • Calcium is used for building bones and teeth and in maintaining bone mass. Dairy products are the primary source of calcium in American diets. Diets that provide 3 cups or the equivalent of dairy products per day can improve bone mass.
  • Diets rich in potassium may help to maintain healthy blood pressure. Dairy products, especially yogurt, fluid milk, and soymilk (soy beverage), 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 soymilk (soy beverage) that are fortified with vitamin D are good sources 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 Dairy Group?

Choosing foods from the Dairy Group that are high in saturated fats and cholesterol can be bad for your health. 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 which can cause excessive weight gain. 
  • The one exception to this rule is children age 12-24 months who are recommended to consume whole milk for proper brain growth and development.

10 Tips to Get Dairy in Today

How much is needed? Older children, teens, and adults need 3 cups a day, while children 4 to 8 years old need 2½ cups, and children 2 to 3 years old need 2 cups.

  1. “Skim” the fat: Drink fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) milk. If you currently drink whole milk, gradually switch to lower fat versions. This change cuts saturated fat and calories but doesn’t reduce calcium or other essential nutrients.
  2. Boost potassium and vitamin D, and cut sodium: Choose fat-free or low-fat milk or yogurt more often than cheese. Milk and yogurt have more potassium and less sodium than most cheeses. Also, almost all milk and many yogurts are fortified with vitamin D.
  3. Top off your meals: Use fat-free or low-fat milk on cereal and oatmeal. Top fruit salads and baked potatoes with low-fat yogurt instead of higher fat toppings such as sour cream.
  4. Choose cheeses with less fat: Many cheeses are high in saturated fat. Look for “reduced-fat” or “low-fat” on the label. Try different brands or types to find the one that you like.
  5. What about cream cheese?: Cream cheese, cream, and butter are not part of the dairy food group. They are high in saturated fat and have little or no calcium.
  6. Switch ingredients: When recipes such as dips call for sour cream, substitute plain yogurt. Use fat-free evaporated milk instead of cream, and try low-fat or fat-free ricotta cheese as a substitute for cream cheese.
  7. Limit added sugars: Flavored milks and yogurts, frozen yogurt, and puddings can contain a lot of added sugars. Get your nutrients from dairy foods with fewer or no added sugars.
  8. Caffeinating?: If so, get your calcium along with your morning caffeine boost. Make or order coffee, latte, or cappuccino with fat-free or low-fat milk.
  9. Can’t drink milk?: If you are lactose intolerant, try yogurt, lactose-free milk, or soy milk (soy beverage) to get your calcium. Calcium in some leafy greens is well absorbed, but eating several cups each day to meet calcium needs may be unrealistic.
  10. Take care of yourself and your family: Parents who drink milk and eat dairy foods show their kids that it is important for their health. Dairy foods are important to build the growing bones of kids and teens and to maintain bone health in adulthood.

Source: ChooseMyPlate.gov


Yogurt is now available on WIC! Check the WIC Approved Food Guide for brands, sizes and flavors allowed.

  • 1 year old children:  Whole Fat Yogurt 
  • 2-5 year old children: Non-Fat & Low-fat Yogurt  
  • All Women: Non-Fat & Low-Fat Yogurt

Use this substitute guide to incorporate plain (not sweetened or flavored) yogurt into your everyday cooking and baking.

  • 1 cup butter = 1/2 cup plain yogurt + 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup oil = 3/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 cup sour cream = 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 cup mayonnaise = 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 cup cream cheese = 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 cup heavy cream = 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 cup milk = 1/2 cup plain yogurt + 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup buttermilk = 2/3 cup plain yogurt + 1/3 cup milk

Milk Allergy versus Milk Intolerance

If your child has been diagnosed with an allergy or intolerance that can be scary. It is important to know that there is a difference between the two. In regards to dairy products, lactose intolerance is common and is also covered below. 

Food Allergy 

A food allergy rallies the body’s disease-fighting (immune) system to action, creating unpleasant, sometimes serious, symptoms in response to a food component, usually a protein. Some severe reactions can be potentially fatal. The immune system starts to work even though the person isn’t sick. That’s why symptoms appear. If the immune system isn’t the cause of a food reaction, it isn’t an allergy.

Food Intolerance

Different food intolerances have different causes. For various reasons, people may not be able to digest a component of certain foods, perhaps because a digestive enzyme such as lactase is deficient. Naturally occurring substances such as theobromine in coffee and tea or serotonin in bananas and tomatoes may cause reactions but they are not life-threatening. Since food intolerances may prompt some similar symptoms (nausea, diarrhea, abdominal cramps) they are often mislabeled as food allergies.

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose is a sugar found in dairy foods. During digestion, an intestinal enzyme called lactase breaks down lactose into smaller, more easily digested sugars – glucose and galactose. When lactose is not fully digested, it is fermented by healthy bacteria in the colon. This fermentation may produce uncomfortable symptoms like abdominal cramps or pain, diarrhea, and/or nausea.

Milk and Milk Alternative are Not Created Equal

If you drink cow’s milk without any negative side effects, there’s really no reason to switch to a plant-based option. Cow’s milk is a good dietary source of necessary vitamins and minerals. A serving of cow’s milk contains calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, and a host of micronutrients that you need in your diet.

If you or someone in your family is diagnosed with a dairy allergy, you will have to eliminate all forms of dairy (yogurt, milk, cheese) from your diet. The following section talks about dairy-free options. If you or your child has lactose intolerance, there are many other options and your child may be able to handle some dairy items better than others. Oftentimes fluid milk is the hardest to digest.

Plant-based milks include soy milk, almond milk, cashew milk, rice, oat or peas milk. If you are going to switch to a plant-based milk, be certain to read the label and find a product that contains good amounts of protein, vitamin D, iron, and calcium. Ideally, aim for a milk that has at least 8 or 9 grams of protein per serving. You will also want to make sure you choose a milk low in added sugar.

The infographic below from the National Dairy Council shows the major differences in types of milk. You will see that cow’s milk contains a large amount of protein and highest amounts of vitamins and minerals at the lowest cost. It is important to note that lactose-free milk is not included in this infographic. Lactose-free milk is regular cow’s milk with the lactose removed. The nutrients in lactose-free milk are the same as regular cow’s milk that contains lactose. The price for lactose free-milk is higher than regular cow’s milk due to the processing that occurs to remove the lactose.

At one time there was concern that soy could fuel breast cancer and endocrine disorders. Soy contains isoflavones, a type of plant estrogen that is similar to human estrogen. However, those theories have been debunked. If you have reason to quit drinking cow’s milk and need an alternative, WIC can provide lactose-free milk as well as soy milk. Below is a comparison of different types of milk from the National Dairy Council comparing cow’s milk and soy milk as well as other options you can purchase on your own, if desired.

Sources: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics – Complete Food and Nutrition Guide 5th edition & Harvard Medical School – Plant milk or cow’s milk: Which is better for you

This post was last updated on November 7th, 2022 at 5:46 PM

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