What Happens to Your Body When You Eat Dairy Every Day

Say "cheese!" Despite what you may have heard on social media, you'll actually score several health benefits if you snack on dairy.

If your "For You" page on TikTok is as wellness-centric as ours has become, chances are high that you've scrolled past at least a few folks claiming that dairy is inflammatory. They claim that if you ditch it, you'll be guaranteed to have more balanced hormones, clearer skin and lower risk for disease and to lose weight.

While it's true that dairy will cause inflammation if you're allergic to it—just like any food or drink would if you have an allergy or strong intolerance—EatingWell dietitians are firm believers that dairy can definitely be part of a healthy diet. Plus, there's so much science to stand behind it, that we've actually created a guide to the 4 best dairy foods to eat every week. That's because dairy, even the full-fat kind, has been found to have a small but statistically significant anti-inflammatory effect in the body, according to a 2017 review of 52 human clinical trials published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.

But what happens when you consume dairy daily?

Ahead, learn more about all of your options in the dairy category, then discover what happens when you include a serving or more each day as part of your typical meal plan. Then, we'll share the scoop about how to select the healthiest dairy sources if you decide to add (or add more) dairy to your diet.

What Is Dairy—and Is It Healthy?

Think back to your grade school days, when you were taught about either the food pyramid or MyPlate. Can you recall the different sections? In addition to fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and fat, dairy is among them.

The USDA's dairy suggestions do not include foods that have little calcium and high fat content (such as cream cheese, sour cream, cream and butter), clarifies Roxana Ehsani, M.S., RD, CSSD, a Miami-based board-certified sports dietitian. So the official dairy group includes milk, yogurt, cheese, lactose-free milk, and fortified soymilk and soy yogurt.

"Many people feel very strongly towards dairy; some are opposed to consuming it, while others understand the value of its health benefits and consume it daily to reap its benefits of being rich in protein, calcium and vitamin D," Ehsani explains.

a photo of milk in a bottle
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Each year, more and more scientific research is starting to surface about the health benefits of dairy, adds Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., RDN, a New Jersey-based registered dietitian, founder of NutritionStarringYOU.com, and author of The Everything Easy Pre-Diabetes Cookbook. Beyond scoring some protein, calcium and vitamin D, research suggests that those who consume dairy in moderation may have healthier outcomes, from lower risk of cardiovascular disease to fewer struggles with weight maintenance or loss, adds Caroline Thomason, RD, CDCES, a Warrenton, Virginia-based registered dietitian who helps women stop dieting and find confidence with food.

While there isn't an agreed-upon consensus about the definition of the term "healthy," Harris-Pincus declares that dairy is "nutrient-rich, meaning that it contains a significant amount of essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals for the calories it provides."

What Happens When You Eat Dairy Every Day

Another delightful feature of viewing the dairy category as a whole is that you can select from a variety of sources of dairy to get your daily dose. Read on for more about what happens if you eat or drink dairy daily, and stay tuned for more ideas about how to mix things up to maximize your health benefits.

You'll be closer to meeting the mark for several nutrients Americans often fall short on.

The USDA's 2020 to 2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans notes that many of us fall short in certain areas deemed "nutrients of concern" since so few of us meet our recommended mark. These include calcium, vitamin D, fiber and potassium, plus iron and folate for certain age groups. Most sources of dairy deliver three of those—calcium, vitamin D and potassium—in one convenient package.

Calcium and vitamin D team up to bolster healthy bones, and potassium acts as an important electrolyte and helps maintain healthy blood pressure, Ehsani explains. All dairy products contain varying levels of calcium and potassium naturally; be sure to look for fortified dairy, when possible, to get your dose of D.

You'll score a punch of protein.

Protein plays a role in muscle growth, supplies energy and acts as the building blocks for every cell in our body. If you skimp on this macronutrient, you're at risk for a weaker immune system, muscle loss, potentially weaker bones and more.

"Protein can keep you feeling full and satisfied for longer too," Ehsani says.

When you compare the nutrition label of plant-based milks to cow's milk or soymilk, there's no competition. Soymilk (up to 9 grams protein per 1-cup serving) and cow's milk (8 grams) beat rice, almond, oat, coconut and hemp by at least 6 grams per serving. A cup of cottage cheese (25 grams) or 2% Greek-style yogurt (23 grams) has even more—on par with 3 ounces of chicken or about four eggs.

Since this protein comes paired with carbohydrates (as a reminder, lactose is the name for the natural sugar in dairy, which is technically a carb), dairy is one of the best post-workout options to promote muscle recovery Thomason says.

Depending on the dairy, you may get a gut-health boost.

Gut health's impact doesn't stop at the lining of our stomachs. Studies suggest that our microbiome—the array of good bacteria that reside inside us—affects sleep, weight, digestion, immune health, mood and more.

You'll be doing good by your gut if you consume yogurt or kefir. Both of these fermented dairy products contain live and active cultures, which are beneficial bacteria that can help keep your gut microbiome healthy and strong. These are just two of the 12 foods we recommend eating to improve your gut health overnight.

You'll feel the symptoms if you're lactose intolerant.

"Some people experience a lactose intolerance, meaning that their gut does not make sufficient lactase enzymes to break down the lactose in dairy to its simple sugars—glucose and galactose. These folks may experience unpleasant symptoms such as cramping, gas and diarrhea," Harris-Pincus adds.

That said, lactose intolerance exists on a spectrum, Thomason says. Some dairy foods may not impact individuals with lactose intolerance at all or as much. Most yogurts, hard cheeses and ghee are naturally lower in lactose; milk has the most.

"The higher the carbohydrate content of the dairy source, the more lactose it contains," Harris-Pincus advises.

If even the lower-lactose items cause digestive distress, try a2 Milk. This contains the lactase enzyme to break down lactose for you. Or Fairlife and Green Valley Creamery products are lactose-free.

You could overdo it on saturated fat and sodium.

It's worth peeking at the nutrition label to ensure the dairy products you eat regularly fit into your overall health goals, as they vary in saturated fat and sodium content.

"Most cheeses tend to be high in saturated fat, unless you choose low-fat or nonfat varieties," Ehsani says. "Those tend to be high in sodium, though. If consumed in excess, sodium isn't great for your blood pressure or heart health."

Even though dairy is a source of saturated fat, some research shows that dairy uniquely affects heart health by improving cardiovascular outcomes, Thomason adds. Until we know more, it's best to stick to lower-fat and lower-sodium sources of dairy like low-fat or nonfat milk, yogurt, cottage cheese and kefir most of the time, and sprinkle in full-fat cheese and cream on occasion.

What to Look for When Choosing Dairy

Depending on your medical history, calorie needs, age and activity level, your ideal choices might vary, but there are some general best practices for choosing healthy dairy sources, the dietitians we spoke with agree. When scanning dairy nutrition labels, note the serving size and seek out items that have:

  • Low saturated fat (this is mainly important if you have heart disease or family history of it, or have risk factors for heart disease)
  • Low sodium
  • High vitamin D
  • Low or no added sugars
  • For yogurt or kefir, live and active cultures

Then, to put that dairy to good use, consider these suggestions from Thomason:

  • Main dish: Yogurt, kefir and cottage cheese can all act as the centerpiece for a smoothie, bowl-based meal, or topped toast. (ICYMI, cottage cheese toast might just be the new avocado toast!)
  • Side dish: Milk, cheese and yogurt all work well in a supporting role in sauces, casseroles, curries and more.
  • Garnish: Save your most calorie-dense dairy options like cream and high-fat cheese to be a garnish or minor cast member.

Frequently Asked Questions About Dairy

Is it good to avoid dairy completely?

Some people can't digest lactose, the sugar found in milk products, so consuming it daily may cause uncomfortable digestive complaints such as gas, diarrhea and bloating, Ehsani says. As long as you're not lactose intolerant, there's no need to steer clear. (P.S. Here's how to tell if you might be lactose intolerant—and what to eat if you are.)

How much dairy per day is too much?

Consuming three servings of dairy daily is recommended as part of a balanced diet. One serving of dairy for an adult looks like:

  • 1 cup yogurt or kefir
  • 1 cup milk or soymilk
  • 1½ ounces cheese
  • ⅓ cup shredded cheese
  • 2 cups cottage cheese (½ cup cottage cheese is defined as equal to ¼ cup milk)
  • 1½ cups of ice cream (a scoop of ice cream is defined as equal to ⅓ cup milk)

What are the side effects of too much dairy?

If you're not intolerant, the only side effect you might notice after consuming more than the three recommended daily servings of dairy might be weight gain (from the extra calories) or "crowding out" items from other food groups since you might be too full to consume other nutrients. That said, the protein and fat in dairy will likely promote enough satisfaction that these side effects don't occur.

"Many types of dairy are high in protein and fat, two filling nutrients that help regulate our appetite throughout the day," Thomason says.

The Bottom Line

There's a lot of fear-mongering and conflicting information about dairy online, Thomason says, but if you love dairy, there's no reason to avoid it. In fact, the current dietary recommendations suggest slotting in three servings of dairy daily as part of a balanced, healthy diet. Plus, if you eat dairy daily, you'll have a head start on important nutrients including protein, vitamin D and calcium.

Craving some inspiration? We have hundreds of healthy dairy recipes in the EatingWell archives. Fan favorites include our Berry-Kefir Smoothie, One-Pot Spinach, Chicken Sausage and Feta Pasta, Loaded Cucumber and Avocado Sandwich (with ricotta), Butternut Squash Soup with Apple Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, Baked Mac and Cheese (with milk, cottage cheese and shredded Cheddar) and Mixed-Berry Frozen Yogurt Bark.

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