Dairy Nutrition FAQ

We’re sharing evidence-based information from our registered dietitians and the National Dairy Council to answer commonly asked questions about dairy nutrition.


Health & Nutrition

The amount of dairy foods you need depends on your age. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate recommends 3 cups of low fat or fat free milk and dairy foods daily for those 9 years or older, 2 1/2 servings for those 4-8 years old, and 2 servings for those 2-3 years old.

USDA recommends that one serving of dairy is equal to an 8 ounce glass of milk, a 6 or 8 ounce container of yogurt, or 1 1/2 ounces of natural cheese or 2 ounces of processed cheese.

Beverage recommendations have been identified for children birth-age 5 in a recent report by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Academy of Pediatric Dentists, American Academy of Pediatrics and American Heart Association. These leading health authorities all recommend cow’s milk and water as “go-to” beverages for children. Giving young children nutrient-rich food and beverages is key when it comes to growth and development.

The table below summarizes the recommendations.

People who are lactose intolerant have a hard time digesting the sugar (called lactose) that is naturally found in milk. Symptoms may include stomachaches, bloating or gassiness, but these symptoms can have many different causes and could also be signs of other digestive conditions. Visit your doctor to be properly tested for lactose intolerance.

To learn more, visit our Lactose Intolerance page.

Lactose intolerance is less common in young children. If you think your child is lactose intolerant, talk to your family doctor, pediatrician or dietitian before limiting their dairy intake. Milk and dairy foods provide essential nutrients like calcium and vitamin D that are vital to building strong bones and teeth.

Being lactose intolerant is not the same as having a milk allergy. A milk allergy is caused by a reaction to the protein in milk (most commonly casein) that is triggered by the immune system. It occurs during infancy and most children outgrow it in early childhood.

This is different from lactose intolerance, which occurs when your body has a hard time digesting the natural sugar (called lactose) in milk. Onset of symptoms usually occur in adolescence or adulthood.

While individuals with milk allergies must avoid ALL dairy, avoidance is not necessary for those who are lactose intolerant.

While calorie content may differ from whole, reduced fat, low fat and fat free milk, the package of nine essential nutrients they all provide remains the same.

While the Dietary Guidelines for Americans continue to recommend low fat and fat free dairy foods, they also allow for up to 10% of calories coming from saturated fat. Whole milk dairy foods can be part of a healthy eating pattern, you will just want to be mindful of other food choices to balance saturated fat and calorie intake.

Emerging research on full fat dairy foods and how it can fit into our diet continues to evolve. To learn more, visit USDairy.com

Yes! Dairy foods are a valuable source of high quality protein and vitamin B12, making them an important nutritional contribution to any meal plan, even if you follow a vegetarian diet (which can include dairy and eggs). Plant-based does not mean the absence of animal foods but rather recommends we increase the amount of fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains we eat, as well. Each food group supplies a unique set of nutrients, and when we put them all together, we have MyPlate in action. Think of it as a plus: dairy plus plant-based foods.

All real, white cow’s milk does not contain gluten — whether you choose whole, low fat or lactose-free milk, it is all gluten-free. Gluten is a protein naturally found in wheat, rye, barley and combinations of these grains.

Some dairy-based foods (foods where milk or dairy is not the only component) may have flavorings or additives that contain gluten, so it’s important to read the ingredient label.

No. Current research does not support that milk or other dairy foods increase mucus production, and there is no reason to avoid it when you are sick with the common cold.

Not only are dairy foods, including milk, cheese and yogurt, filled with essential nutrients our bodies need, but research also shows they may help reduce inflammation. Prevention and management of chronic inflammation is important because it can impact the development of various chronic diseases, like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Choosing healthy eating patterns that include 3 servings of low-fat dairy foods, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins can help to reduce inflammation and improve overall health.

Fermented and probiotic foods can make important contributions to our health and diets. Both fermented and probiotic foods are made with microorganisms, however, not all fermented foods are considered probiotics. Probiotics are live microorganisms that when consumed in adequate amounts may deliver health benefits. For example, both yogurt and cheese are nutrient-rich fermented dairy foods that contribute to daily dietary recommendations, but only yogurt has enough live and active cultures to claim to be a food with probiotics.

Yogurt can be a probiotic food because the traditional cultures, or good bacteria, in it has been studied for its ability to help with lactose digestion. These live cultures can help digest lactose, the naturally occurring sugar in milk. You may see a “live and active culture” seal on the package of some brands of yogurt. This indicates that the good bacteria remained alive after the fermentation process is complete. The use of this seal is voluntary, so yogurt brands that do not list this seal may still contain an adequate amount of live cultures.

Types of Cow’s Milk

Humans have been drinking cow’s milk (and the milk of other mammals) for several thousand years. It’s part of our shared existence, and for good reason: our ancestors figured out a long time ago that milk is nutrient-rich and offered benefits like alleviating hunger and supporting wellness. Today, there are so many more unique ways to enjoy dairy!

In terms of quality, safety and nutrition, there’s no difference between organic and regular milk. The difference is how they are produced on the farm. Strict government standards ensure that both regular and organic milk are wholesome, safe and nutritious.

Farmers who choose to be organic must maintain specific standards set in place by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. All dairy farmers work hard to provide fresh dairy foods to their communities and provide high quality care for their cows. 

There is only preliminary science to support the theory that A2 milk has additional health benefits to regular cow’s milk.

A2 milk is a type of milk from certain dairy cows that produce milk highly concentrated in A2 beta casein, which is a type of dairy protein. All milk contains a protein called beta casein, which has two common forms: A1 and A2. While regular milk contains both forms of beta casein, A2 milk only contains the A2 beta casein, which is thought to be easier to digest. However, the A2 milk concept will remain a theory until there is more science to support it.

All of these choices are 100% real cow’s milk. Types of milk vary by percentage of milkfat, or the amount of fat that is in the milk by weight.

Whole milk contains 3.25% fat by weight — the closest to the way it comes out of the cow. There are also other options for those who have different taste preferences or health needs, including reduced fat (2%), low fat (1%) and fat free milk. While the amount of milkfat does affect the number of calories and fat in each serving, all milk remains a naturally nutrient-rich and wholesome food packed with nine essential nutrients.

Lactose is a natural sugar found in milk that can be difficult for some people to digest if their body does not naturally produce lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose in the body. Lactose-free milk is real cow’s milk that does not contain lactose. It is created by adding lactase to regular milk to break down the lactose. Lactose-free milk contains the same nine essential nutrients as regular milk and is a nutritious and wholesome way for people with lactose intolerance to enjoy real dairy.

Ultra-filtered milk is real cow’s milk. The ultra-filtration process involves passing milk through a thin, porous membrane to separate its five components: water, vitamins and minerals, lactose/carbohydrates, protein, and butterfat. Dairy companies then recombine those parts in different percentages to make beverages that contain, for example, more protein and calcium or less sugar, etc.

Ultra-pasteurization is different from standard pasteurization because it heats real cow’s milk to a higher temperature for a shorter amount of time. Due to the high heat used, ultra-pasteurized milk has an extended shelf life and sometimes has a ‘cooked’ flavor. This type of milk can be stored for 30-90 days under refrigerated conditions, and is good for 7-10 days after opening when kept in a refrigerator at 34-38°F.

Both pasteurization methods require milk to be bottled in sterilized conditions to prevent contamination. Some companies choose to bottle ultra-pasteurized milk in special aseptic packaging, which makes the milk shelf-stable.

The milk you choose is based on personal preference. You can feel good knowing that all cow’s milk — from whole to fat free, organic or lactose-free, ultra-filtered or ultra-pasteurized — is nutritious and responsibly produced.

Flavored Milk

Yes. Flavored milk contains the same nine essential nutrients as white milk, including calcium and vitamin D — nutrients of concern that many kids fail to get enough of, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. While there may be a small amount of added sugar in flavored milk, a child having fat free or low fat flavored milk is a much better choice than a child having no milk at all. 

Flavored milk is a delicious way to help people of all ages consume essential vitamins and nutrients important for health. The added sugar in flavored milk does not detract from its nutritional benefits, but it may help improve the appeal of milk. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics points out, that when sugar is used along with nutrient-rich foods and beverages, it can be a powerful tool to increase the overall quality of a child’s diet. Flavored milk contains the same nine essential nutrients as white milk, including calcium and vitamin D — nutrients of concern that many kids fail to get enough of. 

Like white milk, flavored milk is a good or excellent source of nine essential nutrients, with a difference of approximately 12g of added sugar (approximately 7.5g of added sugar in flavored milk served in schools).

An 8 ounce serving of chocolate milk contains approximately 2mg of natural caffeine. To compare, a cup of coffee has approximately 95mg of caffeine and a cup of tea or soda can range from 25-48mg, depending on brand and how it is brewed.

Flavored milk helps schools to address the nutrient, taste and health needs of the students they serve. The 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act requires that milk be consistent with the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which requires school milk, including flavored milk, be low fat (1%) or fat free.

The small amount of added sugars in flavored milk is an acceptable trade-off for the nutrients provided. Keeping nutrient-rich, flavored milk on the school menu helps ensure children get key vitamins and minerals that they need for strong bones and healthy bodies.

Low fat chocolate milk is the real deal for athletes of all types. It has high quality, natural protein to build lean muscle, fluids to rehydrate, electrolytes to replenish what is lost in sweat, calcium for strong bones and a carb to protein ratio shown to refuel exhausted muscles. Every 8 ounce glass of milk provides 8 grams of protein, nine essential nutrients and a 3:1 ratio of carb:protein.

Plant-based Alternatives

Although milk and plant-based beverages sit side-by-side in the dairy case, non-dairy alternatives often do not provide the same nutrient profile as cow’s milk. Additionally, you can count on real, white cow’s milk to have the same three ingredients (milk, vitamin A and vitamin D) no matter what brand you choose or in which grocery store it is purchased..

Real cow’s milk offers a unique package of nine essential nutrients in a variety of ways — fat free, low fat, reduced fat or whole milk. 

Plant-based beverages often do not provide the same nutrient profile as cow’s milk and may contain added ingredients, like salt, syrups, thickeners and sugars. Cow’s milk, on the other hand, is pure and simple.

Milk Safety

No. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that all milk – both regular and organic – be tested for antibiotics when it arrives at the milk plant. Cows sometimes get sick and require medicine, but their milk does not go into the milk supply. If milk tests positive for antibiotics, it is disposed of according to state regulations and never enters the food stream. 

Hormones are naturally present in many foods of plant and animal origin, including milk. Some farmers choose to supplement some of their cows with rbST, an FDA-approved synthetic protein hormone, to help increase milk production. Science shows that it is safe for cows and has no effect on humans or the hormone levels in the milk itself.

To learn more, USDairy.com

No. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine published research in 2016 from nearly 900 studies, concluding that genetically modified (GMO) crops are safe. Some cows eat feed containing GMO corn or soybeans, which cows digest the same way as they do non-GMO plants. Genetically engineered DNA has never been detected in milk from cows fed GMO plants.

Pesticides are used sparingly in crop production and do not pose a health concern in U.S. dairy products. Sensitive monitoring equipment can detect residues at levels far lower than those that pose a health risk. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has strict regulations about farm practices involving the use of pesticides, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Food and Drug Administration monitor foods for pesticides. Dairy farmers consistently meet or exceed these regulations.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommend that no one consume unpasteurized milk. Pasteurization is a simple, effective method to kill potentially harmful bacteria without affecting the taste or nutritional value of milk.

General

The American Dairy Association Mideast is a local affiliate of the National Dairy Council, a leader in dairy nutrition research, education and communication since 1915.

Our staff is comprised of registered dietitians, school wellness specialists and communications experts dedicated to educating the public about how dairy foods are produced and the important role they play in a healthy lifestyle. We share nutrition information and materials to support government recommendations, including enjoying three servings of nutrient-rich low fat or fat free milk, cheese or yogurt every day.  

The National Dairy Council (NDC) funds research, not results. NDC research is held to a high standard, conducted at leading universities and regularly included in peer-reviewed scientific journals. 

NDC utilizes the expertise of six dairy research centers and partners with major universities, government agencies and other leading scientific, health and nongovernmental organizations to conduct top-notch technical research to ensure it is unbiased. An extensive body of published, peer-reviewed science supports the health benefits of milk and milk products in the diet.

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