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Publication #FCS8916

Healthy Dairy Choices for MyPlate1

Claudia Peñuela2

The Dairy Group includes all liquid milk and products made with milk that retain their calcium after processing. The Dairy Group includes yogurt and cheese. Cream cheese, cream, and butter are not included due to the fact that processing causes them to lose or reduce their calcium content, and they are high in fat and low in nutrients. The MyPlate message is "Get your calcium-rich products." Milk and dairy products provide nine essential nutrients. They are protein, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, vitamin D, vitamin A, riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), and cobalamin (B12). Calcium is the most important nutrient for it makes your bones, teeth, and muscles strong.

Recommended Dairy Products Intake

MyPlate recommends eating between 2 and 3 cups of dairy products every day depending on age, sex, and level of physical activity.

Go to to create your personal plan.

Table 1 shows the recommended cups of dairy products per day for a person who gets less than 30 minutes per day of moderate physical activity. Those who are more physically active are able to consume more while staying within calorie needs.

Table 1. 

Age Years





































The American Academic of Pediatrics Recommendations

  • Infants should drink breast milk or iron-fortified formula during their first year of life.

  • Children between 1 and 2 years should drink whole milk. They do not need to limit fat.

  • Children older than 2 years should drink fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) milk.

What does "one cup" from the Dairy Group mean?

1 cup of milk

1 cup of yogurt

1½ ounces (2 slices) of hard cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, swiss, parmesan)

2 ounces (3 slices) processed cheese (American)

1 cup of pudding made with milk

1½ cups of ice cream

Common portions:

1 slice of processed cheese = 1/3 cup of milk

1 slice of hard cheese = 1/2 cup milk

Nutrients and Key Points about their Benefits

Calcium is the most important nutrient provided in dairy products—it helps to grow healthy bones and teeth. Adequate intake of calcium helps avoid osteoporosis (osteoporosis is a disease where bones get many holes and can be easily crushed or fractured). Calcium is needed also for muscle function, nerve function, and blood clotting.

Protein builds and repairs muscles because it is an energy source used during physical activity.

Vitamin D regulates levels of calcium and phosphorus in the blood.

Potassium helps to maintain a healthy blood pressure and is needed for muscle and nerve functions.

Phosphorus provides energy in the body's cells.

Vitamin B12 helps keep nerve cells and red blood cells healthy, and assists in making DNA.

Riboflavin helps to convert food into energy.

Niacin is required for the function of many enzymes and the metabolism of sugars and fatty acids.

Vitamin A aids in normal vision, keeps skin healthy, and helps the immune system.

Tips for Eating More Dairy Products

Always choose low fat or fat-free milk and dairy products. These foods provide calcium and other nutrients without a lot of saturated fat. After following the previous tip you can also:

  • Drink milk with each meal—breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

  • Use milk to prepare cream soups.

  • Add cheese in salads, pizza, casseroles, soups, and stews.

  • Use milk to prepare hot cereals.

  • Use milk in your hot beverages such as lattes, cappuccinos, and teas.

  • Have yogurt or cheese sticks for a calcium-rich snack.

  • Use yogurt as a dressing for salads, as a topping for a baked potato, or try it mixed with fruit.

  • As desserts, try ice cream, frozen yogurt, and pudding made with milk.

Calcium and Lactose Intolerance

Caution! There are some people that cannot tolerate lactose, the sugar in milk, but they still need a source of calcium in their diets. As an alternative to milk, people with lactose-intolerance can instead choose cheese and yogurt or lactose-free alternatives.

Here are some examples of foods that contain calcium that you can eat in place of milk or dairy products:

  • calcium-fortified beverages

  • canned fish (sardines, salmon with bones)

  • soybeans and soy products

  • leafy greens such as collard, turnip greens, kale, and bok choy


United States Department of Agriculture, MyPlate Basics [Online].

United States Department of Agriculture, Center for Nutrition Policy and promotion. Dietary Guidelines for Americans [Online].



This document is FCS8916, one of a series of the Family Youth and Community Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date August 5, 2010. Reviewed with minor revisions August 2011. Visit the EDIS website at


Claudia Peñuela, EFNEP assistant in nutrition; Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences; Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences; University of Florida; Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.