How many servings of dairy should I have daily?

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that all Americans over the age of nine should consume three cups/servings of milk or milk products each day (1 cup of milk, 1 1/2 ounces of natural cheese or 2 ounces of processed cheese equals one serving); two and a half cups per day are recommended for children aged four-eight years; and two cups per day for children aged two-three years.

Click to read more about The Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

What are the health benefits of dairy foods?

Enjoying three servings of milk, cheese or yogurt is a deliciously easy way to help build stronger bones and healthier bodies because together, these foods provide a powerful package of nutrients. Cow’s milk is a good or excellent source of nine essential nutrients including protein, calcium, vitamins A, D and B12, riboflavin, niacin, phosphorus and pantothenic acid. Studies show that dairy foods, when eaten as part of a healthy diet, improve overall diet quality and may help reduce the risk of osteoporosis, caridovascular disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

How do dairy foods help build stronger bones and teeth?

Dairy foods provide a unique mix of nutrients including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, protein and vitamin D that work together to help protect bones, by maximizing bone density and slowing age-related bone loss.

The positive link between calcium in dairy products and bone health has been established for decades through dozens of clinical studies. Research shows dairy foods, when consumed as part of a healthy diet, improve overall diet quality and may help to reduce the risk of osteoporosis:

Lifelong calcium intake is one of the most significant factors for determining risk of an osteoporotic fracture. A study from Oxford found that women who have low dietary calcium intakes have an increased risk of bone fractures. This research suggests that those at risk for bone loss should be encouraged to consume calcium-rich foods:

Ninety percent of skeletal development is completed during childhood and adolescence. Yet more than 77 percent of children ages nine-19 do not meet their daily recommended intake of dairy foods. A 2006 study in Pediatrics on perceived milk intolerance and bone mineral content in young girls (ages 10-13) found that adolescent girls who thought they were milk intolerant consumed less calcium and had lower bone mineral content in the spine than girls who did not think they were milk intolerant. The long-term consequences of reduced calcium intake and lower spine bone mineral content may put them at an increased risk for osteoporosis later in life:

Should I be drinking chocolate milk as a refuel beverage?

Milk is an effective exercise recovery drink due to its powerful nutrient package that supplies the nutrition the body needs after a workout. Milk has carbohydrates to help refuel the body; protein to help reduce muscle breakdown and stimulate growth; and fluid and electrolytes to aid in rehydration.

How much calcium do I need?

The National Academy of Sciences recommends American adults consume 1,000-1,300 mg of calcium per day, depending on age and gender. Eating three servings daily of milk, cheese or yogurt can help you meet these recommendations. Teens and those over age 50 have higher calcium needs, thus eating four servings of dairy foods can help them meet these recommendations. To find out how much calcium you need — and how many Americans aren’t getting enough — see Calcium Fact Sheet from NIH Office of Dietary Supplements.

Why can’t I just take a supplement to get the calcium I need?

More than just calcium, milk, yogurt and cheese also contain other essential nutrients needed for health and wellbeing. While a calcium supplement may help you meet your daily calcium needs, you likely miss out on these other important nutrients that dairy foods provide. Good nutrition depends on overall healthful eating and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, National Institutes of Health and the American Academy of Pediatrics believe that individuals should attempt to meet their nutrient needs through food first.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine found that consuming calcium primarily from dietary sources rather than supplements affects estrogen metabolism and positively impacts bone mineral density in postmenopausal women:

Does low-fat and fat-free milk contain the same nutrition as whole milk?

Yes, low-fat and fat free milk have the same calcium, protein, vitamins and minerals and naturally occurring sugar as whole milk. The only difference in these milks are their fat (and calorie) content. Whole milk is 3.25% fat, fat-free or skim milk has nearly all of the fat removed.

What dairy foods should I eat or drink if I am lactose intolerant?

Lactose intolerance doesn’t have to mean dairy food avoidance. In fact, research shows that many individuals who are lactose intolerant can enjoy the recommended three servings of dairy foods daily.

Lactose intolerance is not an allergy, but an intolerance to the naturally occurring sugar lactose in milk. A doctor can diagnose lactose intolerance with a simple breath test. Still, lactose intolerance is a very individual condition. Most people who have it can enjoy dairy foods by drinking lactose-free milk, small amounts of regular milk, or including natural cheeses and yogurt in their diet. Lactose-free milk is real milk, just without the lactose. Yogurt, with live and active cultures, contains friendly bacteria and enzymes which help digest lactose. Aged cheeses are naturally low in lactose.

Why is milk pasteurized and what is pasteurization?

French doctor and scientist Louis Pasteur invented the process of pasteurization more than a century ago. Pasteurization is the process of heating milk to at least 161° Fahrenheit for 15 seconds to remove milk-borne pathogens. This simple process destroys harmful bacteria while maintaining milk’s quality, taste and nutritional value. Since its discovery, pasteurization has safeguarded much of our food supply, including milk and dairy products. By heating raw milk in specially-designed equipment, pasteurization ensures the safety and wholesomeness of milk.

Federal regulations require that all milk intended for direct consumption be pasteurized – as a matter of food safety. Some state laws circumvent these regulations by allowing raw milk sales through farms and cow shares. All raw milk sold to consumers in the United States is required to be labeled as such.

Will antibiotics given to a cow affect the milk I drink?
Just like humans, cows sometimes get sick and need medicine. On a conventional dairy farm, a sick cow can be treated with an antibiotic. She continues to be milked while on the antibiotic, but her milk is collected separately and discarded until it tests free of antibiotics. All milk is tested for antibiotics before it is ever processed to ensure antibiotics stay out of the milk supply.

Results show that the current safety system is effective in preventing drug residues in your milk. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) 2015 annual report confirmed that the U.S. dairy industry antibiotic management practice is working. Of the 3.15 million milk samples taken directly from dairy farms, only 0.014 percent tested positive for traces of antibiotic. In this rare instance that a load of milk tests positive, none of the milk from that tanker truck enters the food supply.

Read more about Antibiotics and Milk

Are there pesticides in milk?

Milk has consistently been found to contain either no pesticide residue whatsoever, or levels that rank among the lowest of all agricultural products. Stringent government standards ensure that all milk – whether organic or regular – is safe, wholesome and nutritious.

What is rbST?

Bovine somatotropin (bST) is a hormone that occurs naturally in all cows. Its physiological function is to help young cattle grow, and adult cows to produce milk. A small amount of bST is naturally present in all milk, including organic milk.

A synthesized copy of bST – recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST) – is available for farmers who choose to use the hormone as a farm management tool to boost their herd’s milk production. Health authorities such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have determined that milk from cows treated with rbST is both nutritious and safe.

Still, much of the milk found at the grocery store is from cows not treated with rBST. This milk is labeled as such.

For more information, see Milk & Hormones Fact Sheet.

What is whey protein?

Cow’s milk, a quality protein source, is made up of primarily whey and casein proteins. Whey protein is a high-quality protein. Compared to many other proteins, on a gram-to-gram basis, whey protein delivers more essential amino acids to the body and is absorbed quickly and efficiently.

For more information on whey protein visit The Power of Whey Protein website.

What are probiotics?

According to the United Nations Food Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), probiotics are “live microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” Traditionally, these “friendly bacteria” were found in fermented foods such as yogurt and cultured milk, but can now be found as an added ingredient in milk and cheese as well. Some strains of probiotics have been associated with digestive health, while others may benefit the immune system.

How do I store dairy foods?


  • Refrigerate milk at 40°F or less as soon as possible after purchase and store in the original container.
  • Return milk to the refrigerator immediately after pouring.
  • Never return unused milk to the original container.
  • Keep milk containers closed to prevent the absorption of other flavors. An absorbed flavor changes the taste, but the milk is still safe.
  • Protect milk from exposure to strong light since light can reduce its riboflavin content and cause off-flavors.
  • If properly cared for, milk generally stays fresh two to three days past the “sell by” or “pull-by” dates on milk cartons.
  • Store dry milk in a cool, dry place and keep in an air-tight container after opening. Once reconstituted, dry milk should be refrigerated and handled like other fluid milks.


  • Keep cheese at a temperature at or below 40° F.
  • Store in the original wrapper or container, transparent wrap, aluminum foil or plastic wrap.
  • Generally, harder (low-moisture) cheeses keep longer in the refrigerator than softer (higher-moisture) cheeses.


  • Yogurt should be stored in closed containers in the refrigerator at 40° F to maintain its quality.
  • Store yogurt for up to one week, on average. Prolonged refrigeration of yogurt should be avoided as yogurt bacteria tend to decrease in viability and numbers over time.

Other Dairy Products

  • Buttermilk. Buttermilk will keep for about two weeks in the refrigerator.
  • Butter. To preserve butter’s flavor and freshness, refrigerate opened butter in a covered dish in the butter compartment. Unopened, wrapped salted butter may be stored in the refrigerator for up to two months.
  • Cream. Keep it refrigerated in its closed container at 40° F or lower. It should be used within one week. Ultrapasteurized cream keeps several weeks longer, but once opened, it should be handled like pasteurized cream.

What does the “Sell By” date mean?

Every carton of milk sold in the United States is clearly labeled with a “sell by,” “pull,” “use by” or “best if used by” date. Each of these dates mean something different. The “sell by” and “pull” dates refer to how long a grocery store can keep the product in the dairy case. The product must be sold by the date labeled on the package. This date takes into account time for the food to be used at home, so you should buy the product before the “sell by” or “pull” date, but you don’t have to use it by then. If properly refrigerated, milk will stay fresh for two to three days after this date; perhaps longer.

The “use by” date is similar to the “best if used by” date; both refer to the last date that the product is likely to be at peak flavor and quality. If kept cold and stored properly, you may have fresh, wholesome milk and dairy products for more than a week past the “use by” or “best if used by” date. When in doubt, let your nose be the guide – milk that has gone bad has a sour scent – if it doesn’t smell right, toss it out.

Can I freeze dairy foods?

Yes and no, each dairy product is a bit different:

Milk: Milk can be frozen, but it is not recommended. Freezing changes the texture and appearance of milk. Freezing milk does not harm the milk, but disturbs the quality in taste and consistency.

Cheese: Cheese can be frozen, but it may become mealy and crumbly when thawed. Thawed cheese is best used crumbled or shredded in salads, as toppings or in cooked dishes. Some cheeses are better frozen than others. Because blue cheese varieties like Roquefort and Gorgonzola are generally used crumbled, further change in their texture is of little consequence. Because other cheeses like Parmesan and Romano can be stored in the refrigerator for prolonged periods, freezing is unnecessary.

When freezing cheese, freeze quickly and store at 0º F or lower. Thaw in the refrigerator and use as soon as possible after thawing.

Yogurt: Freezing yogurt is safe, however, freezing will change the consistency and quality of the product. In some cases freezing yogurt – specifically if planning to use in smoothies or as a frozen treat – may be preferable. Just make sure to use the frozen yogurt within four months.

Butter: Butter can be frozen in its original wrapper for several months. Unsalted butter is best kept frozen until ready to use. For longer freezer storage, wrap in foil or plastic. Unsalted butter can be kept frozen for about five months at 0º F. Salted butter can be frozen for about six to nine months.

Cream: Freezing is not recommended for unwhipped cream, but once whipped, cream may be frozen. Place dollops of whipped cream on waxed paper and freeze. When frozen, wrap individually for use as needed.