Dairy Nutrition FAQ

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

Health & Nutrition

The amount of dairy foods you need depends on your age. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 3 cups of lowfat 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.

The 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.

People who are lactose intolerant have a hard time digesting the sugar (called lactose) that is naturally found in milk and may experience discomfort after consuming dairy foods. Stomachaches, bloating or gassiness can have many different causes. Your doctor can help you find out if you are lactose intolerant or if your digestive discomfort is caused by something else.

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 (casein or whey) that is triggered by the immune system. It occurs during infancy and most children outgrow it by age 5.This is different from lactose intolerance, which occurs when your body has a hard time digesting the natural sugar (or carbohydrate) in milk. Onset of symptoms usually occur in adolescence or adulthood.

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

Dairy foods make an important nutritional contribution to vegetarian meal plans since they are a valuable source of high quality protein and provide shortfall nutrients of public health concern to the American diet, such as calcium, potassium and vitamin D. Milk is also an important source of vitamin B12 (a nutrient primarily found in animal products) and, therefore, can be a particular concern for vegetarians.

Cow’s milk does not contain gluten – whether you choose whole, low-fat or lactose-free cow’s 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.

There is no scientific evidence 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.

The exact cause of acne is unknown, but there are a number of factors that can increase the risk of acne such as hormones produced by the body, genetics and emotional stress.

The American Academy of Dermatology advises that no specific dietary changes are recommended in the management of acne. In fact, a balanced, nutrient-rich eating plan can help keep skin healthy – and dairy foods are an important part of healthy eating plans. While some observational studies may have presented a link between dairy and increased risk of acne, these studies suggest a correlation not a cause and effect relationship. The body of clinical research to date does not show that diet or any particular food causes acne.

Current science doesn’t support a link between early puberty and consumption of milk. In fact, there is no conclusive evidence that eating dairy foods (or any particular food) is associated with changes in the age of puberty on a population-wide basis. 

While the exact cause of early puberty is unknown, studies in adolescent females show associations between the age of puberty onset and genetics, lifestyle and environmental factors such as excess body weight or chemical exposure.

Types of Cow’s Milk

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. Some organic farming practices include: -Cows must have access to organic pasture during the grazing season -Cows must eat certified organic feed -Antibiotics are prohibited and cows must be sold to non-organic markets if treatment is required.

A2 milk offers the same nutrition and health benefits as regular milk. Any specific claims are not currently supported by science.

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. This differs from the traditional milk sold in the United States that includes a mix of A1 and A2 beta-casein proteins. Both types of milk, A2 and traditional, are a source of high quality, complete protein.

Based on our current knowledge, A2 milk offers the same nutrition and health benefits as regular milk.

There are several different proteins in milk. One protein is called beta casein, and there are two common forms: A1 beta casein and A2 beta casein.

Most milks contain a mix of both A1 and A2 beta casein while “A2 milk” contains only A2 beta casein.

The percentage on your milk container is the amount of fat 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%), lowfat (1%) and fat-free milk. Regardless of the fat content, all types of milk are equally wholesome and safe to drink.

Lactose-free milk is still real cow’s milk, but the lactose has been broken down to help the body digest it or, in some cases, the lactose in the milk is filtered out altogether The body makes a natural enzyme called lactase to help digest lactose. If your body doesn’t make enough lactase, you may not be able to digest lactose properly, which can lead to lactose intolerance symptoms. In response to this, some milk companies make lactose-free milk, which is easier to digest.

LACTAID® products are enriched with lactase for people who are lactose-intolerant or have minor discomfort after eating dairy. Our supplements can be taken with regular dairy to make them easier to digest.

Flavored Milk

Flavored milk is a delicious way to help people of all ages consume essential vitamins and nutrients important for health.

Low-fat flavored milk contains the same nine essential nutrients as low-fat white milk, including calcium and vitamin D – nutrients of concern that many kids fail to get enough of. On average, by the time they are 6 years old, children fall below the Dietary Guidelines for Americans’ recommended daily dairy servings. Milk consumption, including flavored, in children and adolescents, is associated with higher consumption of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and vitamin A, compared to those who do not drink milk. According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, current evidence indicates that consumption of milk and milk products are linked to improved bone health, especially in children and adolescents.

The added sugar in flavored milk does not detract from its nutritional benefits, but it may help improve the appeal of milk; therefore, helping to increase the consumption of milk for some children. 3-6 Flavored milk has essentially the same nutrient profile as white milk, with a difference of approximately 12g sugar 7 and research indicates sweetened, nutrient-rich foods such as milk and yogurt can contribute to improved nutrient intakes. 6 In fact, the American Heart Association recognizes the value of flavored milk stating, “when sugars are added to otherwise nutrient-rich foods, such as sugar-sweetened dairy products like flavored milk and yogurt and sugar-sweetened

Flavored milk contributes only 4% of the total added sugars in children’s diets, 2% of the calories, and provides nine essential nutrients, making it a better choice than many other beverages. Additionally, the dairy industry has reformulated flavored milks available in schools to reduce fat, calories and added sugars by an estimated 38% and the majority of flavored milks are 150 calories or less, with an average of 122 calories — just 25 more calories than white milk.

While added sugars offer no nutritional benefit, the American Academy of Pediatrics

does point 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.  Like plain white milk, flavored milk is a good or excellent source of 9 essential nutrients2 with a difference of approximately 12g of added sugar (approximately 7.5 g of added sugar in flavored milk served in schools).11 Research indicates sweetened, nutrient-rich foods such as flavored milk and yogurt can contribute to improved nutrient consumption. American children and adolescents (2-18yrs) who drank flavored milk, did not have higher added sugar intakes compared to children and adolescents who did not drink any milk.12 Additionally, children in the U.S. who drink flavored milk, do not have higher Body Mass Indices (BMIs) compared to non-drinkers.9

An 8 ounce serving of chocolate milk contains approximately 2mg of caffeine. To compare, a cup of coffee has approximately 95 mg of caffeine. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, flavored dairy foods, such as chocolate milk, accounts for less than 5% of total daily caffeine intake in the collective diets of children and young adults ages 2-22 years. Soda remains the largest caffeine contributor and close to 90% of caffeine intake comes from coffee, tea and soda in the collective diets of children and young adults.

No. Chocolate milk contains a small amount of oxalic acid, a compound found in cocoa beans and other plants that in sufficient quantities can affect calcium absorption. 22 The very small amount of this compound in chocolate milk has no significant effect on the availability of milk’s calcium.

Flavored milk enables schools to address the nutrient, taste and health needs of the students they serve. The 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act12 requires that milk be consistent with the most recent Dietary Guidelines, mandating that school milk be low-fat (1%) or fat-free and regulations require that all flavored milks must be fat-free.

Several leading health and nutrition organizations, including the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, recognize the valuable role that milk, including low fat and fat-free flavored milk, can play in meeting daily nutrient needs. They also recognize 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.

Lowfat 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, 9 essential nutrients and a 3:1 ratio of carb:protein.

Link to BWCM website

Plant-based Alternatives

Although milk and plant-based alternatives sit side-by-side in the dairy case, non-dairy alternatives often do not provide the same nutrient profile as cow’s milk. You can count on cow’s milk to have a consistent composition as reflected in its standard of identity. By contrast, the composition of plant-based alternatives varies by brand.

In addition, non-dairy alternatives, such as almond and soy, contain many added ingredients, including salt, syrups, thickeners and sugars. Cow’s milk, on the other hand, is pure and simple.

Milk Safety

No. All milk – both regular and organic – is tested for antibiotics. 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 and never enters the food stream. Less than 0.02% of all milk tested last year ever had an issue.

Hormones are naturally present in many foods of plant and animal origin, including milk. Some farmers choose to supplement some of their cows with additional bST, to increase milk production, but science shows that there is no effect on hormone levels in the milk itself.

No. Some cows eat feed containing genetically engineered corn and soybeans which cows digest the same way as they do non-GMO grains. 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 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.

No. All milk intended for direct consumption should be pasteurized – it’s a matter of food safety. Pasteurization is a simple, effective method to kill potentially harmful bacteria without affecting the taste or nutritional value of milk. All about milk

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.It does not affect the nutritional value of milk in any meaningful way.


The National Dairy Council (NDC) funds research, not results. Public funding is scarce for research involving specific foods and many of the research projects that ensure we learn all we can about milk and milk products would not otherwise be undertaken without the support of NDC. Supporting this research does not mean impacting the findings of research.

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.

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