The Skinny on Milk

By Jessie Hatch

With so many conflicting recommendations about milk, it’s understandable that you might have questions and find it hard to decide what is healthy for your family. It’s our job as Registered Dietitians to help you and your family evaluate diet information so you can make good nutrition decisions.

the skinny on milk

Should we be giving our families milk to drink? Is milk a magic food that helps maintain a healthy weight, or does it contribute to chronic diseases like diabetes? 

With so many conflicting recommendations about milk, it’s understandable that you might have questions and find it hard to decide what is healthy for your family. It’s our job as Registered Dietitians to help you and your family evaluate diet information so you can make good nutrition decisions.

So, what about milk and other dairy products?

Here’s our recommendation: Drink milk!

Eating low-fat dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheeses helps give your body needed calcium and other minerals to keep bones healthy. It is also a great source of protein and has been shown to help people maintain a healthy weight.   

What kind of milk should I give my family?

The USDA recommends healthy intake of low-fat milk products for everyone above 2 years of age to meet calcium needs, but to also keep fat intake appropriate. If you choose milk, cheese, or yogurt that is not low-fat or fat-free, the fat in the product gives extra calories that are “empty” (meaning it just gives more calories and not a lot of nutrition). If you choose flavored milk or drinkable yogurt, be aware that these choices also give extra calories in the form of sugar, and should therefore be consumed only in moderation.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, toddlers from 12-24 months should drink whole milk – unless your doctor recommends a lower fat percentage – because they need healthy fat to help their brains grow.

How much milk should we drink?

ChooseMyPlate.gov gives great recommendations to follow:

Daily recommendation

Children

2-3 years old

2 cups

4-8 years old

2 ½ cups

Girls

9-13 years old

3 cups

14-18 years old

3 cups

Boys

9-13 years old

3 cups

14-18 years old

3 cups

Women

19-30 years old

3 cups

31-50 years old

3 cups

51+ years old

3 cups

Men

19-30 years old

3 cups

31-50 years old

3 cups

51+ years old

3 cups

What counts as a serving?

 Here’s a quick list that gives an idea of what a serving size of dairy products looks like:

Amount That Counts as a Cup in the Dairy Group

Common Portions and Cup Equivalents

Milk
(choose fat-free or low-fat milk)

1 cup milk

 

1 half-pint container milk

 

½ cup evaporated milk

 

Yogurt
(choose fat-free or low-fat yogurt)

1 regular container
(8 fluid ounces)

1 small container
(6 ounces) = ¾ cup

1 cup yogurt

1 snack size container
(4 ounces) = ½ cup

Cheese
(choose reduced-fat or low-fat cheeses)

1 ½ ounces hard cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss, Parmesan)

1 slice of hard cheese is equivalent to ½ cup milk

⅓ cup shredded cheese

 

2 ounces processed cheese (American)

1 slice of processed cheese is equivalent to ⅓ cup milk

½ cup ricotta cheese

 

2 cups cottage cheese

½ cup cottage cheese is equivalent to ¼ cup milk

Milk-based desserts
(choose fat-free or low-fat types)

1 cup pudding made with milk

 

1 cup frozen yogurt

 

1 ½ cups ice cream

1 scoop ice cream is equivalent to ⅓ cup milk

Soy milk
(soy beverage)

1 cup calcium-fortified soy milk

 

1 half-pint container calcium-fortified soy milk