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What are the benefits of dairy foods in a healthy eating pattern?

Foods in the dairy food group offer a unique package of nutrients.

Foods in the dairy food group offer a unique package of nutrients that work together to provide multiple health benefits, including optimal growth and development in children and reduced risk of chronic disease. These nutrients include calcium, vitamin D, protein, potassium, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin B12, riboflavin and more.

How Many Servings of Dairy Foods Are Recommended? 

Daily Recommendation 
AgeNo. of servings
2–3 years2 cups
4–8 years2 1/2 cups
9+ years3 cups
Pregnant and breastfeeding3 cups

Health Benefits of Dairy Foods

There is a growing body of evidence that links the consumption of milk and dairy foods to a wide range of health benefits, from well-studied associations like controlling blood pressure and improving bone health to newer associations like reducing the risk of diabetes and heart disease.

  • Improved bone health: Dairy foods are a good choice for maintaining strong bones due to their high protein, vitamin D and calcium content. The calcium in milk is easily absorbed and used in the body, which is why milk and dairy foods are reliable sources of calcium. Getting the recommended number of servings of dairy per day can help build bone mass, leading to improved lifelong bone health.
  • Blood pressure reduction: An eating pattern rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy foods, with reduced overall saturated fat, is as effective as some medications in reducing blood pressure in people with increased blood pressure. 
  • Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes: Research shows that eating patterns that include dairy foods have been associated with reduced risk for type 2 diabetes and protection against heart disease. 
  • Improved digestive health: Cultured dairy foods like yogurt contain probiotics, which provide a wide array of health benefits. Probiotics in the diet can enhance the good bacteria in the intestinal tract, improve health and reduce the risk of certain diseases.  

There are many ways to incorporate milk and dairy foods into a healthy eating pattern. Start the day with a healthy breakfast of cereal, milk and fruit. Include cheese in a salad or sandwich at lunch. Enjoy yogurt for an afternoon snack. 

Find out more about the relationship between a healthy eating pattern, activity and overall health by visiting the Healthy Eating page. For online learning activities, check out the nutrition resources for online learning page. 

Drouin-Chartier JP, Brassard D, Tessier-Grenier M, et al. Systematic review of the association between dairy product consumption and risk of cardiovascular-related clinical outcomes. Adv-Nutr. 2016;7:1026-1040. doi:10.3945/an.115.011403
Guéguen L, Pointillart A. The bioavailability of dietary calcium. J Am Coll Nutr. 2000;19(2 Suppl):119S-136S. 
Moshfegh A, Goldman J, Ahuja J, et al. What We Eat in America, NHANES 2005-2006: Usual Nutrient Intakes From Food and Water Compared to 1997 Dietary Reference Intakes For Vitamin D, Calcium, Phosphorus, and Magnesium. US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. Updated July 30, 2009. Accessed September 30, 2019.  
Nutrients and health benefits. US Department of Agriculture. ChooseMyPlate.gov website. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/eathealthy/dairy/dairy-nutrients-health. Accessed September 30, 2019. 
Salehi-Abargouei A, Maghsoudi Z, Shirani F, et al. Effects of dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH)-style diet on fatal or nonfatal cardiovascular diseases—incidence: a systematic review and meta-analysis on observational prospective studies. Nutr. 2013;29(4):611-618.
Tojo R, Suárez A, Clemente MG, et al. Intestinal microbiota in health and disease: role of bifidobacteria in gut homeostasis. World J Gastroenterol. 2014;20(41):15163-15176.