Health & Wellness

Role of Dairy in the Diet

Dairy foods and ingredients play an important nutrition delivery and cultural role in the daily diets of people around the world. Whether traditional fare or new additions to regional preferences, dairy foods provide clear benefits to people of all ages. Specifically:

  • Dairy and dairy-containing foods contribute many essential nutrients including protein, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin B12, riboflavin, niacin, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium
  • Milk, cheese and yogurt are core aspects of healthy eating patterns and dietary guidance recommendations in many countries
  • Dairy ingredients like whey and milk proteins support healthful diets and are found in dairy-based beverages, yogurt, nutrition and energy bars, ready-to-drink beverages, oatmeal, snacks and powder for homemade smoothies and shakes

Dairy contributes essential nutrients 

Role of dairyThe Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) highlights dairy as a way to help people across populations meet the body's needs for calcium, magnesium, selenium, riboflavin, vitamin B12 and pantothenic acid.1  In the United States, milk is the number one food source for calcium, vitamin D and potassium in the diets of adults and children; cheese is the number two food source of calcium, after milk.2,3   

Nutrient-dense dairy foods-milk, cheese and yogurt-are also a core part of healthy eating patterns and dietary guidance recommendations around the world, including the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan,4 heart health-focused eating plans from the American Heart Association5 and diabetes management-focused eating plans from the International Diabetes Federation.6  

Dairy's nutrient-rich package is recognized and recommended across the globe as an important part of well-rounded, healthy diets. Below is a snapshot of international dietary guideline recommendations in select international markets.

Select International Dietary Guidelines Recommendations*

CountryDaily Dairy Intake RecommendationsRecommended Products
Australia 4-11 years: 2 cup equivalent 12-18 years: 3 cup equivalent 19 years and older: 2 cup equivalent Low- or reduced-fat dairy foods
Canada 2-8 years: 2 cup equivalent 9-18 years: 3-4 equivalent 19-50 years: 2 cup equivalent 51 years and older: 3 cup equivalent Low- or reduced-fat dairy foods
China 300g equivalent       Milk or equivalent dairy products including yogurt, cheese, milk powder, etc. 300g milk is equivalent to 360g yogurt or 45g (3 spoonfuls) of milk powder
France Three servings Not specified
Japan Two servings   One serving is: milk, ½ cup; one cheese wedge; one cheese slice; one pack yogurt, half of single-serve  milk container
Korea 2 cup (200g) equivalent   Spoonable yogurt, ½ cup (100g); drinking yogurt, ¾ cup (150g); ice cream, ½ cup (100g); one slice of cheese (20g)  
Spain Two servings Preferably low-fat dairy products: milk, 200-250ml; cured cheese, 40-60g; fresh cheese, yogurt, 200-250g)
United States 2-3 years: 2 cup equivalent 4-8 years: 2½ cup equivalent 9 years and older: 3 cup equivalent Low-fat or fat-free dairy foods

 *Note: Daily intake guidelines are country-specific; serving size and measurement may differ by market.

Dairy foods deliver

Health benefits such as the calcium and vitamin D dairy foods provide to growing children are well known. However, dairy foods' health and nutrition benefits extend beyond childhood, and are important to adults of all ages. Research indicates dairy food consumption (including milk, cheese and yogurt): 

  • Benefits overall bone health across lifespan7
  • May help reduce the risk of high blood pressure in a variety of populations8
  • May help reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD), coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke in a variety of populations9
  • Is associated with reduced risk of type 2 diabetes10  

Dairy proteins boost health benefits

Beyond essential nutrient delivery, dairy foods are naturally high in protein and can play an important role in positive health outcomes. Likewise, dairy ingredients like whey and milk proteins can provide a variety of health and wellness benefits when added to products such as ready-to-drink shakes, snack bars and even meals. Research shows higher-protein diets, which can be achieved by adding dairy ingredients, like whey and milk proteins into meals, can help people:

  • Promote muscle repair and recovery after exercise11, 12, 13, 14
  • Maintain a healthy weight15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20
  • Curb hunger21, 22, 23
  • Build lean muscle (when combined with regular resistance exercise) 24, 25, 26
  • Enhance exercise recovery 11, 12, 13. 14
  • Maintain muscle mass as they age27, 28  

Below are some tips to provide a protein boost to many popular foods using dairy foods and dairy ingredients.

  • Pair yogurt-based dips, sauces and dressings with veggies or fruits for added nutritional boost.
  • Dairy proteins like whey can enrich foods not commonly high in protein like beverages, bars, pastas and baked goods.  
  • Diverse cheese varieties provide nutrients and taste appeal as ingredients in soups, sauces, dips and baked goods. 

1 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Milk and Dairy Products in Human Nutrition. Available at: FAO.pdf. Accessed on June 4, 2014.
2 Keast DR, Fulgoni VL, Nicklas TA, et al. Food sources of energy and nutrients among children in the United States: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2003-2006. Nutrients 2013;22;5(1)283-301.
3 O'Neil CE, Keast DR, Fulgoni VL, et al. Food sources of energy and nutrients among adults in the US: NHANES 2003-2006. Nutrients 2012;4(12):2097-120.
4 National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute. What is the DASH Eating Plan? Available at: Accessed on June 4, 2014.
5 American Heart Association. Milk Products. Available at: Accessed on June 4, 2014. 6 International Diabetes Federation. Healthy Eating. Available at: Accessed on June 4, 2014.
7 Dairy Intake and Bone Health Across the Lifespan. Accessed on November 16, 2020.
8 Science Summary: Blood Pressure. Accessed on June 25, 2018.
9 Science Summary: Cardiovascular Disease. Accessed on February 27, 2019.
10 Science Summary: Type 2 Diabetes. Accessed on June 5, 2014.
11 Tipton KD, Elliott TA and Cree MG. Ingestion of casein and whey proteins result in muscle anabolism after resistance exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004; 36: 2073-2081.
12 Howarth KR, Moreau NA, Phillips SM, et al. Coingestion of protein with carbohydrate during recovery from endurance exercise stimulates skeletal muscle protein synthesis in humans. J Appl Physiol. 2009; 106: 1394-1402.
13 Tang JE, Manolakos JJ, Kujbida GW, et al. Minimal whey protein with carbohydrate stimulates muscle protein synthesis following resistance exercise in trained young men. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2007; 32: 1132-1138.
14 Tipton KD, Elliott TA, Cree MG, et al. Stimulation of net muscle protein synthesis by whey protein ingestion before and after exercise. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2007; 292: E71-E76.
15 Josse A, Atkinson S, Tarnopolsky M, Phillips SM. Increased consumption of dairy foods and protein during diet- and-exercise-induced weight loss promotes fat mass loss and lean muscle gain in overweight and obese premenopausal women. J Nutr 2011;141:1626-1634.
16 Baer D, Stote KS, Paul D, Harris G, Rumpler W, Clevidence B. Whey protein but not soy alters body weight and composition in free-living overweight and obese adults. J Nutr 2011;141:1489-1494.
17 Westerterp-Plantenga M, Nieuwenhuizen A, Tome D, Soenen S, Westerterp K. Dietary protein, weight loss, and weight maintenance. Annu Rev Nutr 2009;29:11.1-11.21.
18 Claessens M, van Baak M, Monsheimer S, Saris WHM. The effect of a low-fat, high-protein or high-carbohydrate ad libitum diet on weight loss maintenance and metabolic risk factors. Int J Obes 2009;33:296-304.
19 Westerterp-Plantenga M, Lejeune M, Nijs I, van Ooijen M, Kovacs E. High protein intake sustains weight maintenance after body weight loss in humans. Int J Obes 2004;28:57-64.
20 Lejeune M, Kovacs E, Westerterp-Plantenga S. Additional protein intake limits weight regain after weight loss in humans. Br J Nutr 2005;93:281-289.
21 Institute of Medicine. Macronutrients and healthful diets. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients).  2005. Washington, DC, National Academies Press. 11-4-2012.
22 Smeets A, Soenen S, Luscombe-Marsh N, Ueland O, Westerterp-Plantenga M. Energy expenditure, satiety, and plasma ghrelin, glucagon-like peptide 1, and peptide tyrosine-tyrosine concentrations following a single high-protein lunch. J Nutr 2008;138:698-702. 
23 Leidy H, Armstrong C, Tang M, Mattes R, Campbell W. The influence of higher protein intake and greater eating frequency on appetite control in overweight and obese men. Obesity 2010;18:1725-1732.
24 Churchward-Venne T, Burd N, Mitchell C et al. Supplementation of a suboptimal protein dose with leucine or essential amino acids: effects on myofibrillar protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in men. J Physiol 2012;590:2751-2765.
25 Tang J, Phillips S. Maximizing muscle protein anabolism: the role of protein quality. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 2009;12:66-71.
26 Tang J, Moore D, Kujbida G, Tarnopolsky M, Phillips S. Ingestion of whey hydrolysate, casein, or soy protein isolate: effects on mixed muscle protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in young men. J Appl Physiol 2009;107:987-992.
27 Houston D, Nicklas J, Harris T et al. Dietary protein intake is associated with lean mass change in older, community-dwelling adults: the Health, Aging, and Body Composition (Health ABC) study. Am J Clin Nutr 2008;87:150-155.
28 Mojtahedi M, Thorpe M, Karampinos D et al. The effects of a higher protein intake during energy restriction on changes in body composition and physical function in older women. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 2011;66:1218-1225.