Common Dairy Nutrition Questions

Below is a list of the most frequently asked dairy nutrition questions about how nutrition and health play a role in the dairy products people like you enjoy and consume. For more information about how milk and dairy products get from the farm to your table, please visit our Farm Life page.

Dairy Nutrition

Flavored Milks

Dairy Products

Milk Alternatives

Dairy Nutrition

What nutrients do dairy foods provide?

Dairy nutrition facts show that 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 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.

Are dairy foods a good nutrition 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 essential 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.

What are nutrient-rich foods?

Dietary guidelines recommend nutrient-rich foods for a balanced diet. 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, 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. Dairy health facts show that eating more nutrient-rich foods such as low-fat or fat-free dairy, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, can help reverse malnutrition. A simple nutrition label worksheet compares the available nutrients in each food item and the given amounts. Follow dietary guidelines to ensure a balanced diet, complete with essential nutrients.

Do the fat levels in milk impact nutrition?

No, all types of milk – whole, low-fat and fat-free – deliver nine essential nutrients. Only fat and calories vary between milk with different fat levels. Milk is sold in a variety of fat levels to satisfy different consumer preferences.

Does milk processing impact nutrition?

All milk is pasteurized for safety and homogenized for quality, but neither process has an impact on the overall nutrition package. Pasteurization kills harmful bacteria potentially found in raw milk. Homogenization keeps the cream from separating from the milk and creates a more consistent product.

Is there any difference between the nutrition of natural and processed cheese?

Both types of cheese include calcium, protein and phosphorus, making them a great part of a nutritious diet that is part of a healthy eating plan. Processing allows for the addition of vitamin D and calcium.  Manufacturers of both natural and processed cheeses are continuing to develop lower fat and lower sodium versions to meet a variety of consumer needs.

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

Yes! Lactose intolerance doesn’t have to mean dairy intolerance. And, dairy nutrition facts from many health authorities show that milk and other dairy foods are an important and practical source of essential nutrients, for all people – including those who are lactose intolerant. People who have difficulty digesting lactose can still enjoy dairy, making sure they don’t miss any essential nutrient. According to dairy nutrition facts from 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 the loss of the nutrients in dairy which may result in adverse health effects. Nutrients in dairy are necessary for dietary balance Learn more about lactose intolerance and how you can enjoy dairy again.

Flavored Milks

How does flavored milk differ from unflavored milk?

The only difference is the addition of flavorings and minimal amounts of sugar. Both unflavored and flavored milk provide the same nine essential nutrients. Cow’s milk delivers a protein win and contains a higher quality protein which the body is better able to absorb. Superior quality dairy protein ensures muscle health, which is critical through all stages of life.

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 dairy health facts gathered from 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. Flavored milks are also a fun way to get some kids interested in milk who might not enjoy white milk. It ensures that they get those necessary nutrients in dairy.


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 2015 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.

Dairy Products

How does Greek yogurt compare to traditional yogurt?

Greek yogurt is a hot item on the grocery shelf these days. It has a tangy flavor and a creamy texture. Compared to traditional yogurt, Greek yogurt is strained to remove much of the liquid whey, lactose and sugar, giving it a thicker consistency. It also contains essential nutrients. 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 an ingredient in recipes, such as this one for Creamy Guacamole. 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.

How should I store dairy products?

There are several things you can do to maximize the life of dairy products and keep them safe to eat and reduce food waste. This includes proper refrigeration, freezing and thawing, which you can learn about in our Food Storage section.

What is processed cheese?

Processed cheese, which was originally developed during wartime, is made from blending several varieties of high-quality natural cheeses that provides important nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus and protein. The blending (or processing) allows cheese to maintain its flavor, texture and smoothness but allows a cheese to be customizable for flavor and improved melting properties. The process also makes cheese shelf stable, allowing the cheese to maintain its flavor, texture and smoothness.

What are some benefits of processed cheese?

Processed cheese not only tastes delicious but also allows people the opportunity to enjoy an even wider variety of cheese flavors and textures.  Adding processed cheese as an ingredient in a favorite recipe also contributes to improved melting and creaminess – and that ooey-gooey deliciousness we all love.
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Why are there a variety of fat levels for milk?

Only fat and calories vary between milk with different fat levels. Milk is sold in a variety of fat levels to satisfy different consumer preferences.

Milk Alternatives

How do milk alternatives compare to cow’s milk?

There are many milk alternatives out there, including rice, coconut, almond and nut, hemp, and soy beverages. However, these drinks are not technically milk, are heavily processed and contain a fewer number of the nutrients in dairy and at lower levels. What sets cow’s milk apart from dairy alternatives is its nutritional package. Cow’s milk provides nine essential nutrients, as compared to milk alternatives which have fewer nutrients in variable amounts, depending on the type you choose. For instance, the protein nutrient in almond, coconut and rice milks is significantly less than the 8 grams of protein in an 8-ounce serving of cow’s milk. Cow’s milk products are one of the richest sources of well-absorbed calcium which may be more readily available to the body to help build bones than the calcium in calcium-fortified milk alternatives. Milk remains a better option than beverages that are often lacking an essential nutrient or more. Learn more about nutrients in dairy and why milk alternatives don’t match up to the real deal.

How does processing impact milk and milk alternatives?

Cow’s milk has only three ingredients: milk and vitamins A and D. Milk alternatives, such as almond and soy, contain 10 or more added ingredients, including salt, stabilizers, syrups, thickeners and sugar. Also, due to their excessive processing, milk alternatives (such as almond milk) often have fewer nutrients than the unprocessed core ingredient (such as almond).