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Publication #FCS8938

The Skinny on Low-fat and Fat-free Milk and Milk Products1

Lauren Headrick and Karla P. Shelnutt2

Have you seen the National Dairy Council Got Milk?® campaign with the celebrities wearing a milk mustache that encourages people to drink milk? There are a variety of celebrities, young and old, proudly wearing their milk mustache as a way to share the message about the benefits of drinking milk ( Did you know that those benefits do not come from just drinking milk? All milk products provide the beneficial nutrients that make your teeth and bones strong. But over the age of two, it is important to choose low-fat and fat-free milk products to get the benefits without all of the extra fat. Whether you are young or old, consuming fat-free and low-fat milk products every day is important for good health.

This publication highlights the purpose of including foods from the Milk group in the diet and the daily amounts needed for children and adults. It also includes helpful hints for those who are lactose intolerant. Lastly, there are tips for how to increase your daily intake of milk and milk products.

MyPyramid and the Milk Group

MyPyramid is the food guidance system developed to help Americans choose the right amount of food to eat for good health. The Milk group, which is shown in blue, is one of five food groups that make up MyPyramid. Examples of foods included in this group are milk and foods made from milk, such as cheese, yogurt, and ice cream. Eating foods from this group is a great way to get some of the vitamins and minerals needed to be healthy. By choosing low-fat and fat-free versions of these foods, you can cut down on your fat intake while enjoying the health benefits of these foods. Now that you know what is in this group, lets look at how much you need every day.

How much should I eat?

You may ask, is a glass of milk a day enough? Some people are surprised to learn that youth and adults need more of these foods than children to promote good health. The amount of low-fat and fat-free milk and milk products needed every day varies based on your age and is shown in Table 1.

Table 1. 

General recommendations for daily amounts of milk products by age group

Age Group

Daily Amount

Children 2–8 years

2 cups

Youth 9–17 years

3 cups

Adults 17+ years

3 cups

What counts as a cup?

It is fairly easy to look at a cup of milk and know that it counts as one cup of the total amount needed from the Milk group in a day. It is not as easy to tell how much of other milk products count as one cup. Each of the foods below count as one cup of milk:

  • 8 oz. milk

  • 2 slices of cheese (3 in. x 3¼ in.)

  • ½ cup of frozen yogurt

  • 8 oz. yogurt

  • one-third of a cup of shredded cheese

Not all foods with “milk” in their name belong to the Milk group. Soy milk and almond milk are two examples of foods that are not part of this group. These foods contain less calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients naturally found in milk and milk products. To see more examples of what is included in the Milk group, please visit the MyPyramid website at

Health Benefits of Eating Low-fat and Fat-free Milk Products

Eating and drinking low-fat and fat-free milk products on a daily basis helps to increase your intake of certain nutrients and has been shown to have many disease fighting qualities. Milk and milk products provide nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and magnesium. These nutrients are needed every day for good health. Here are some of the good things they do for us:


  • Builds strong bones and teeth in children and youth

  • Helps adults keep their bone mass so they do not develop weak bones and diseases like osteoporosis (pronounced OSS-tee-o-puh-RO-sis)

Vitamin D

  • Makes sure the body has proper levels of calcium and phosphorus

  • New research suggests it may also help to prevent cancer, high blood pressure, and other diseases but more research is needed


  • Controls blood pressure

  • Reduces the risk of having a stroke


  • Keeps bones strong

  • Controls blood pressure

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose is a sugar that occurs naturally in milk and milk products. Some people are lactose intolerant and do not digest lactose very well. They may develop bloating, gas, and stomach cramps when they eat more of these foods than they are able to digest. It is a good idea to be checked by your doctor if you think you have this problem. The amount of milk products that may bring on symptoms is not the same for everyone. Some milk products, such as yogurt and hard cheeses, contain very little lactose and can easily be enjoyed by someone who does not digest lactose very well.

What can be done if you are lactose intolerant?

It is important to get enough milk products in your diet every day, even if you do not digest lactose very well. Here are a few ideas you can try:

  • Slowly add milk products into your diet.

  • Consume small amounts of milk products with meals.

  • Choose products with lower amounts of lactose, such as yogurt and hard cheeses like cheddar, Swiss, provolone.

  • Choose lactose-free milk and milk products found at most stores and also available in low-fat and fat-free forms.

  • Consider other sources of calcium, such as calcium-fortified orange juice or tofu, if you decide to stay away from all milk products.

Tips for Adding More Milk Products to Your Day

Finding new and exciting ways to include low-fat and fat-free milk, cheese, and yogurt into your diet can be very helpful in making sure you get the amount you need every day. Here are some great ideas for adding a little more milk to your day:

  • Make a yogurt and fruit breakfast smoothie. This is a great way to increase your fruit and milk intake.

  • Include milk as a drink with meals.

  • If you drink whole milk, slowly switch to reduced-fat, low-fat, and then fat-free milk to reduce your intake of “bad” fat and calories.

  • Try yogurt with fruit or pudding as a snack.

  • Low-fat or fat-free ice cream or frozen yogurt is a great treat after a meal.

  • Low-fat or fat-free cheese with crackers makes a great midday snack.

  • Top soups, stews, or salads with shredded low-fat cheese.

  • Use low-fat or fat-free milk in place of whole milk or cream in coffee.

For more meal tips and snack ideas, visit the National Dairy Councils website at


Eating and drinking low-fat or fat-free milk products every day is important for promoting good health. The nutrients provided in these foods help to build strong bones and teeth and can help to reduce your risk for developing certain chronic diseases and conditions. For people who do not digest lactose very well, lactose-free milk and milk products that are naturally low in lactose are good options. You can increase your daily intake of foods from the Milk group by replacing other snack foods and drinks with milk products, or by using Milk products in soups and stews, and on salads and sandwiches. Try the recipes included at the end of this publication, or get creative and invent your own!

Recommended Websites

USDA – MyPyramid.Gov -

This site contains general information on each food group, including the Milk group. Facts about what foods are in the Milk group, what counts as a cup, and the benefits of milk products are explained.

National Dairy Council -

This site contains teaching aides, child intake recommendations, recent research findings, and healthy recipes that include foods from the Milk group.

Recipes for Adding More Milk Products to Your Day

Cheesy “Pizza” Dip

Makes 10 Servings


  • 6 ounces light cream cheese

  • ½ cup light sour cream

  • 1 teaspoon oregano

  • ½ cup pizza sauce

  • 1 cup shredded low-fat Mozzarella cheese

  • ¼ cup diced green or red peppers

  • ¼ cup sliced onions

  • ¼ cup diced tomatoes

  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

  • Whole-grain bread sticks, whole-grain crackers, or whole-grain pita wedges

Combine cream cheese, sour cream, and oregano in bowl; stir until smooth. Spread cream cheese mixture evenly into 9-inch pie plate or quiche pan. Top with pizza sauce, Mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, peppers, and onions. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 F for 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted. Serve with whole-grain bread sticks, crackers, or pita wedges.

Strawberry-Banana Smoothie

Makes 4 Servings


  • 2 cups low-fat or fat-free milk

  • 1 small can (6 oz) frozen orange juice concentrate

  • 1 cup (8 oz) nonfat strawberry-banana yogurt

  • 1 tablespoon honey (add more to taste)

  • 4–6 ice cubes

In blender, combine milk, orange juice, honey, and yogurt. Blend until smooth. Add ice cubes, one at a time. Blend after adding each ice cube. Blend until smooth and frothy. Serve immediately.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Makes 5 servings


  • 8 ounces uncooked elbow macaroni

  • 2 tablespoons reduced-calorie stick margarine

  • ¼ cup flour

  • ¾ teaspoon dry mustard

  • ¼ teaspoon ground pepper

  • 2 cups fat-free or low-fat milk

  • 1 cup shredded reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese

  • ½ cup reduced-fat Monterey Jack cheese

Cook macaroni according to package directions (do not include any salt or fat). Drain. Set aside to cool. Melt margarine in a large, heavy saucepan over low heat. Add flour, dry mustard, and pepper to melted margarine and mix thoroughly. Add milk. Cook, stirring constantly with a wire whisk, until thickened (about 1 minute or more). Add cheeses, stirring until cheese melts. Stir in cooked macaroni. Spoon mixture into a greased, 2-quart casserole dish.
Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or microwave on high for 5 minutes. Let stand covered 5 minutes before serving.

Yogurt Fruit Dip

Makes 4 servings


  • ¾ cup plain low-fat yogurt

  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

  • 1 tablespoon honey

  • fruits of your choice

Put yogurt, honey, and lemon juice in a bowl and mix with a spoon until smooth. Chill the dip in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Serve with fresh cut fruit, such as strawberries, apples, or pineapple.



This document is FCS8938, one of a series of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. First published April 2011. Visit the EDIS website at


Lauren Headrick, dietetic intern, Master of Science-Dietetic Internship Programs, Food Science and Human Nutrition Department; Karla P. Shelnutt, Ph.D., RD assistant professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, 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.