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Benefits of Dairy

By Svetlana Thaler, MS, RDN

Dairy foods are a powerhouse of many important nutrients and are recognized by the 2015 - 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans as part of a healthy eating pattern. Choosing dairy foods can help people to get more calcium, vitamin D and potassium - three nutrients highlighted as nutrients of public health concern in the 2015 - 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs). The DGAs specifically recognize low fat and fat free dairy as part of a healthy eating pattern recommending adults aim for three daily servings. This article will take a closer look at the nutrition benefits of dairy. 

Dairy is a source of three of the four most under-consumed nutrients in the American diet

Calcium. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in our body. Calcium is used for building bones and teeth, as well as maintaining bone mass. If a person does not get enough calcium in the diet, they may be at risk for losing calcium in their bones, which can lead to thinner and weaker bones. This can lead to osteoporosis1.

The recommended amount of calcium increases with age and depends on gender. For adults, calcium recommendations range from 1,000 to 1,200 mg daily1.   

Potassium. Potassium is a type of electrolyte that your body needs to work properly. It is a very important mineral to help build proteins; break down and use carbohydrates; build muscle; control the electrical activity of the heart; and control the acid-base balance of the body2. According to the DGAs, potassium can lower blood pressure by reducing the adverse effects of sodium on blood pressure1.

The recommended amount of potassium for adults is 4,700 mg per day1.

Vitamin D.  Vitamin D is a nutrient that is needed for general health. It does so by helping the body absorb calcium, thus maintaining strong bones. Vitamin D plays an important role in many other ways as well. For example, muscles need it to move; nerves need it to carry messages; and the immune system needs vitamin D to help fight off invading bacteria and viruses3.

The amount of vitamin D needed depends on the age. The recommended amount for adults 19-70 years old is 600 IU3. The amount increases to 800 IU for adults 71 years and older3.  

When it comes to dairy, yogurt is a nutritious choice

Live & Active Cultures. Yogurt contains live and active cultures - living bacteria can help lessen symptoms of lactose intolerance, such as bloating, cramping and diarrhea. Because yogurt is often better tolerated than other dairy products, it can be an important source of calcium for people who are lactose intolerant.4

Probiotics. According to the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics, probiotics are “live microorganisms that when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host5.” It’s important to note that all probiotics are cultures, but not all cultures are probiotics. Yogurt as a fermented food can be considered a probiotic if it has probiotic strains added to it.

Nutrient Dense. Yogurt is a source of important nutrients, like calcium and potassium, and studies show yogurt eaters consume more calcium, vitamin D, magnesium and potassium than non-consumers6.  This is true for both children and adults.

Table 1: % Difference between yogurt eaters and non-eaters6

Table 1

Sugar. As a dietitian, a question that I’ve heard often is whether eating yogurt frequently leads to higher intakes of added sugar. It’s a great question and one we’ve researched using the National Health and Nutrition Examination (NHANES) Survey Data. The reality is both teens and adults who eat yogurt have lower added sugar intakes6.

Chart 1: Grams of added sugar eaten per day for yogurt eaters and non-eaters6

Table 2

Other Benefits. According to NHANES, adult yogurt consumers have lower body weights than non-consumers6. Yogurt consumers have a significantly lower body mass index (27.03) compared to non-consumers (28.51)6. Additionally, yogurt consumers also have lower risk factors for diabetes and heart disease6.

In celebration of National Dairy Month, consider all the benefits that dairy foods provide, and how choosing 3 servings per day is an important part of a healthy diet. Yogurt is a nutrient dense, convenient and great tasting way to get in a serving of dairy.


  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 - 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/
  2. Potassium and the Dietary Guidelines. May 2018. Available at https://foodandhealth.com/potassium-dietary-guidelines/
  3. Vitamin D. National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. April, 2016. Available at https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-Consumer/
  4. NIH Consensus Development Conference: Lactose Intolerance and Health. NIH Consensus Development Program. February, 2010. Available at https://consensus.nih.gov/2010/lactosestatement.htm#q1
  5. Probiotics. International Scientific Association of Probiotics and Prebiotics. Mary Ellen Sanders. 2016. Available at https://isappscience.org/probiotics/ 
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Data. Hyattsville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011-2014. Available at https://wwwn.cdc.gov/nchs/nhanes/continuousnhanes/overview.aspx?BeginYear=2013