Frequently Asked Questions

How many servings of dairy should I have daily?
What are the health benefits of dairy foods?
How do dairy foods help build stronger bones and teeth?
How can dairy foods help lower blood pressure?
How much calcium do I need?
Can’t I just take a supplement to get the calcium I need?
Does low-fat and fat-free milk contain the same nutrition as whole milk?
What dairy foods should I eat or drink if I am lactose intolerant?
Why is milk pasteurized and what is pasteurization?
Will antibiotics given to a cow affect the milk I drink?
Are there pesticides in milk?
What is rbST?
What is whey protein?
What are probiotics?
How do I store dairy foods?
What does the “Sell By” date mean?
Can I freeze dairy foods?

 

 

How many servings of dairy should I have daily?

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that all Americans over age 9 should consume three servings of milk products each day (1 cup of milk, 1½  ounces of natural cheese or 2 ounces of processed cheese equals one serving); 2½ cups per day are recommended for children aged 4-8 years; and 2 cups per day for children aged 2-3 years. 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 delicious way to help build stronger bones and healthier bodies with a powerful package of nutrients. Milk contains 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 osteoporosiscardiovascular 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.1-3
  • A study from Oxford found that women who have low dietary calcium intakes have an increased risk of bone fractures.4
  • A 2006 study in pediatrics 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.5

 

How can dairy foods help lower blood pressure?

Milk, yogurt and cheese are among American’s top sources of calcium, potassium and magnesium – a trio of minerals known to play an important role in maintaining blood pressure. Dairy foods have been effective in lowering blood pressure, specifically as part of the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. The DASH diet is a research-based diet shown to lower blood pressure as effectively as some medications. It is based on the principle that including potassium, magnesium, calcium and fiber-rich foods in a balanced diet – rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy foods – will help the body naturally lower blood pressure. The DASH diet is recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well as the American Heart Association and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

 

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 daily servings of milk, cheese or yogurt can help you meet these recommendations. Teens and those over age 50 have higher calcium needs and may need four daily servings of dairy foods. 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.

 

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 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 we should try to meet our nutrient needs through food first.

In fact, consuming calcium primarily from dietary sources rather than supplements affects estrogen metabolism and positively impacts bone mineral density in postmenopausal women, according to researchers at Washington University School of Medicine.6

 

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

Yes, low-fat and fat-milk have the same calcium, protein, vitamins and minerals and naturally occurring sugar as whole milk. The only difference in these milks is in their fat (and calorie) content. Whole milk is 3.25 percent fat, while 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 by:

  • Drinking lactose-free milk (real milk, just without the lactose)
  • Drinking small amounts of regular milk
  • Eating yogurt with live and active cultures (friendly bacteria and enzymes which help digest lactose)
  • Eating aged cheeses, which are naturally low in lactose

Everyone is different in the amount of lactose they can tolerate, and anyone experiencing problems digesting dairy should ask a doctor to determine if the cause is actually lactose intolerance (a difficulty digesting the sugar in milk) or a milk allergy (an immune reaction to the protein in milk). A doctor can diagnose lactose intolerance with a simple breath test.

 

Why is milk pasteurized and what is pasteurization?

French doctor and scientist Louis Pasteur invented pasteurization more than a century ago. It’s the process of heating milk to at least 161°F for 15 seconds to destroy harmful bacteria while maintaining milk’s quality, taste and nutritional value. There is also a type of pasteurization called ultra high temperature, which heats milk to 275°F for three seconds. This method is what makes shelf-stable (refrigeration not required for storage) milk possible. Since its discovery, pasteurization has safeguarded much of our food supply, including milk and dairy products. 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.

 

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. Learn more about milk and hormones.

 

What is whey protein?

Whey protein is a high-quality protein found naturally in cow’s milk. 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.

 

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 some milk and cheese products 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?

Milk

  • Refrigerate milk at 40°F or less as soon as possible after purchase.
  • 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.

Cheese

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

Yogurt

  • Store yogurt 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. Ultra-pasteurized 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 means something different.

  • The “sell by” and “pull” dates refer to how long a grocery store can keep the product in the dairy case. 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; if it doesn’t smell right, toss it out.

 

Can I freeze dairy foods?

Yes and no; each dairy product is a bit different.

Learn more

 

References

  1. S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005. 6th Edition, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, January 2005.
  2. S. Department of Health and Human Services. Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General, 2004.
  3. Heaney, R.P. Calcium, dairy products, and osteoporosis. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 2000;19 (suppl): 83s-99s
  4. Key TJ, Appleby PN, Spencer EA, Roddam AW, Neale RE, Allen NE. Calcium, diet and fracture risk: a prospective study of 1898 incident fractures among 34 696 British women and men. Public Health Nutrition 2007; 10:1314-1320.
  5. Greer, F.R., N.F. Krebs, and Committee on Nutrition, American Academy of Pediatrics. Optimizing bone health and calcium intakes of infants, children, and adolescents. Pediatrics 2006; 117:578-585.
  6. Napoli N, et al. Effects of dietary calcium compared with calcium supplements on estrogen metabolism and bone mineral density. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2007; 85:1428-1433.