The 4 Best Dairy Foods to Eat Every Week, According to a Dietitian

Despite nondairy alternatives growing in popularity and on the grocery aisles, dairy is a nutrient-packed food group.

Despite dairy alternatives like oat milk and coconut milk yogurt growing in popularity, dairy products have a lot of nutritional benefits. They generally contain all three macronutrients while also being a key source of certain micronutrients like calcium. In this article, we'll highlight dairy products you should consider regularly incorporating into your diet and share their nutritional benefits.

Recipe Pictured: Pecan-Cherry Toasted Muesli Yogurt Cups

Why Is Dairy Good for You?

Dairy products are one of five food groups included in MyPlate, the USDA's visual guideline for preparing nutritionally well-rounded meals. Not only are dairy products generally nutritionally well-rounded—containing a combination of carbs, protein and fat—they also include important micronutrients. Most notably, they are a good source of calcium and phosphorus, which are critical for bone health, and potassium, a mineral essential for blood pressure management. Fortified dairy milk is also a good source of vitamin D, a nutrient many Americans lack, according to a 2018 study published in Cureus. The protein and calcium in dairy products are highly bioavailable, per a 2021 review in Nutrients, meaning your body can absorb them more efficiently than most plant-based alternatives.

Many people worry that dairy causes acne; however, no high-quality research supports this. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology does not recommend any specific dietary changes to manage acne. Another common concern is heart health; however, dairy products are generally found to have a neutral effect on heart health. For example, in a 2018 study in the British Journal of Nutrition, the consumption of most dairy products had no association with heart disease risk. Fermented dairy products were even associated with reduced risk for heart disease. There is also no high-quality research to support the idea that dairy causes inflammation. However, you could have a lactose intolerance if you experience digestive upset when having dairy. Consult with your health care provider to discuss a potential diagnosis, and you might want to try using lactose-free milk or products like yogurt or kefir, whose lactose content is minimal.

Pecan-Cherry Toasted Muesli Yogurt Cups
Victor Protasio

4 Dairy Products You Should Eat Every Week


Not only is cheese delicious, but it is also rich in calcium and protein. It is very low in carbohydrates and rich in fats. According to the USDA, one slice of Cheddar cheese contains about 10% of the daily value of calcium, 4 grams of protein and 5 grams of fat. The fat in cheese is primarily saturated fat, so be sure to also eat sources of unsaturated fat throughout the week to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and fatty liver. Additionally, you can always choose low-saturated-fat cheeses if you prefer. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting saturated fat to 10% of your total caloric intake. Cheese can easily be added to salads and sandwiches or eaten as a snack with nuts, crackers or fruit. Combining it with carbohydrates can promote a nutritionally well-rounded meal or snack.


Cow's milk comes in fat-free, low-fat, reduced-fat or whole-fat varieties. Per the USDA, fat-free or skim milk contains no fat, whereas whole milk contains about 4.6 grams of saturated fat per cup. All varieties are nutritionally well-rounded, containing carbohydrates and protein as well. This makes them a great post-workout snack! Milk is also rich in calcium and typically fortified with vitamin D.

Plain Yogurt

Not only is yogurt a good source of protein, but it also contains probiotics. Probiotics are microorganisms found in fermented foods that are especially important for gut health. They support the good bacteria in your gut that promote healthy digestion. There are a lot of yogurt options out there with varying macronutrient profiles. For example, Greek or skyr yogurts contain the highest amount of protein and have a thicker consistency than traditional yogurt. The best option for you will depend on your taste preferences and unique nutritional needs. All are a good source of calcium too! However, be sure to read the nutrition label and choose an option with little to no added sugar. You might consider having your yogurt with fruit, nuts or seeds for fiber and granola for carbohydrates to make a well-rounded snack or breakfast.


Kefir, like yogurt, is a great source of probiotics. Kefir has a texture similar to drinkable yogurt, but it has a more tangy taste. Not only is it a good source of probiotics, but it is lactose-intolerance friendly, containing only trace amounts of lactose. It is also rich in protein and calcium and is often fortified with vitamin D. There may be many more health benefits of kefir, such as reducing cholesterol and inflammation. However, as a 2021 systemic review published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity explains, the current research is weak, and further clinical research is needed to strengthen the evidence of these possible benefits. Kefir mixed with fruit, like berries, makes for a great post-workout snack since it contains both protein and carbohydrates.

The Bottom Line

Despite many consumers turning to nondairy alternatives, dairy products have a lot of nutritional benefits. With a variety of dairy options out there, including ones suitable for lactose intolerance, you can probably find something that works for you regardless of your dietary needs or taste preferences. It is especially worth adding dairy to your weekly intake for its highly bioavailable calcium, a nutrient important for bone health and the prevention of osteoporosis.

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