Midwest Dairy Association

Dairy Nutrition FAQ

What nutrients do dairy foods provide?

Together, milk, cheese and yogurt provide a unique package of nine essential nutrients: Calcium, potassium, phosphorous, protein, vitamins A, D and B12, riboflavin, niacin (or niacin equivalents.) The USDA defines an “essential nutrient” as a dietary substance required for healthy body functioning. Essential nutrients must come from the diet because the human body can’t manufacture them in sufficient quantities to meet daily needs. From helping repair muscle tissue to maintaining healthy red blood cells, the nine nutrients in milk work together to help keep the body in optimal health.


What are the recommended servings of milk and milk products a person should consume each day?

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recognizes that milk and milk products are linked to improved bone health, especially in children and teens, a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure in adults. The Guidelines calls for families to increase their intake of low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese and yogurt, with a goal of three servings every day for people ages nine and older. Published by the USDA and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, this science-based report found that 85 percent of Americans are falling short of the current dairy recommendations. Most Americans need just one more serving of a day to meet dietary goals.


Are dairy foods a wise investment for families?

Yes, dollar for dollar, dairy foods are one of the most economical sources of nutrition in the grocery store. At about 25 cents a glass, milk is America’s number one food source of calcium, potassium and vitamin D – three nutrients that people fall short on the most. Families can bank on nine essential nutrients when they purchase dairy foods like milk, cheese and yogurt – this is a nutrient package no other food group can offer. Learn more about how to stretch your dollar with dairy.


What are nutrient-rich foods?

Nutrient-rich foods deliver essential nutrients for relatively fewer calories and include low-fat and fat-free dairy, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Many Americans today are overfed yet undernourished. Encouraging the selection of nutrient-rich foods first can address this challenge and help people better manage their weight while meeting nutrient needs. To make your meals, snacks and beverages more nutrient-rich food intake, see our collection of recipes featuring dairy foods.


What is malnutrition?

Malnutrition occurs when the body does not get enough nutrients and can be caused by an unbalanced diet; for example one that lacks adequate vitamins and minerals. Though often linked to under nutrition or starvation, malnutrition can and does occur among children and adults who over eat foods that are high in calories yet provide few nutrients. Eating more nutrient-rich foods such as low-fat or fat-free dairy, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, can help reverse malnutrition.


Are flavored milks a good choice for kids?

Yes, flavored milks have their place in a well-balanced diet. They provide the same nine essential nutrients as white milk and research* shows that children who drink flavored milk have higher total milk intakes compared to those who drink exclusively white milk. This same research shows that milk drinkers - both white and flavored - do not have higher BMIs compared to non-milk drinkers. *Murphy, M.M., J.S. Douglass, R.K. Johnson, et al J. Am. Diet. Assoc. 108: 631, 2008.


Does flavored milk contain more sugar than a soft drink?

When comparing milk to other beverages for sugar content, it is important to look at added sugars since all milk contains some natural sugar, called lactose. And because each manufacturer has a unique formula, added sugar content may vary among flavored milk products. On average, an 8-ounce serving of low-fat chocolate milk contains about four teaspoons of added sugar, while an equivalent amount of a soft drink contains seven teaspoons. Plus, milk delivers more nutrition than soft drinks. Unlike soft drinks and fruit drinks, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines does not list flavored milk as a sugar-sweetened beverage. And in fact, the Dietary Guidelines recommends added sugars to increase the palatability of nutrient-dense foods, as in the case of fat-free chocolate milk.


Can a person still enjoy dairy even though they are lactose intolerant?

Yes! Lactose intolerance doesn't have to mean dairy intolerance. And, many health authorities agree that milk and other dairy foods are an important and practical source of key nutrients, for all people – including those who are lactose intolerant. People who have difficulty digesting lactose can still enjoy dairy. According to an expert panel convened by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to examine lactose intolerance and health, eliminating dairy foods may not only be unnecessary to manage lactose intolerance, but also may lead to nutrient shortcomings which may result in adverse health effects. To help your patients enjoy dairy again, try these tips for managing lactose intolerance.


How does Greek yogurt differ from traditional yogurt?

Greek yogurt is a hot item on the grocery shelf these days. It has a tangy flavor and a creamy texture. Different than traditional yogurt, Greek yogurt is strained to remove much of the liquid whey, lactose and sugar, giving it a thicker consistency. In some cases, Greek yogurt can pack up to double the protein and roughly half the carbohydrates of regular yogurt. Because of its consistency, it works well as in ingredient in recipes, such as this one for Sausage, Peppers and Polenta with Basil Greek Yogurt Sauce. Some people, especially kids, may still prefer the flavor of traditional yogurts, so remember all low-fat yogurts, Greek or not, can fit into a healthful diet.