Is Dairy Necessary?

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming 2-3 servings daily of dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese as a part of a balanced diet. However, avoiding or limiting dairy has been a hot nutrition topic lately. There are disagreements on dairy’s role on overall health, especially when it comes to saturated fat. In addition, there is an dairy-sparingly-400x400increasing prevalence of people who are lactose intolerant or have a milk protein allergy who are giving up dairy all together and really do feel better. With more and more people claiming true or perceived dairy intolerance, dietary guidelines for cow’s milk consumption may need to be updated to match the trends and people should be educated to avoid nutrient deficiencies.

Can you have a well- balanced diet if you nix dairy all together? That depends on your overall diet. Whether you are avoiding dairy for health, personal or true intolerance reasons, it’s important to make sure you are not missing any vital nutrients. With avoidance of dairy, calcium and vitamin D are the main nutrients of concern. Research supports the benefit of dairy for health and reducing disease risk, but you do not NEED to consume dairy products to maintain a well-balanced diet and meet calcium and vitamin D requirements. However, it will be difficult unless you are intentional about your food consumption and therefore is important to be educated on the nutrients you could be lacking if you choose to avoid it.

Nutrients of Concern:


Required for many important regulations in the body and supports bone structure and function. Recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is 1000-1300 mg of calcium per day depending on age and gender. Without consumption of dairy it can be hard to meet these requirements, but it is not impossible. Nondairy sources include vegetables such as kale and broccoli, and fortified products such as grains and juices. (List of calcium sources).

Yogurt (Plain, Low Fat, 8oz) 415 mg
Milk (Nonfat, 8oz) 299 mg
Fortified Orange Juice (8oz) 349 mg
Bread (Fortified, whole grain, 1 Slice) 125 mg
Kale (Cooked, 1 Cup) 94 mg
Broccoli (Raw, 1 cup) 42 mg

Although this is not an exhausted list, you can see it would be much easier to get the RDA of calcium with dairy products, but it’s not the only option. However, consumption of non-dairy sources needs to be in higher quantities to meet the RDA.

Supplementation is an option. However, only 500mg of elemental calcium can be absorbed at one time so supplementation needs to be split into doses and types of calcium supplementation should be researched or discussed with Doctor before consuming. Refer here for more information and additional food sources of calcium.

Vitamin D

Promotes calcium absorption in the gut and plays a role in blood calcium and phosphate concentrations. RDA is 600 IU per day for 14-70 year olds. Vitamin D is naturally present in very few foods. Fatty fish and fish liver oils are the best sources, but small amounts can be found in beef liver and egg yolks. Fortified products such as milk, yogurt, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals and orange juice make up a large portion of vitamin D consumption in the American diet. Some vitamin D needs can also be met through sunlight exposure, although timing and other factors can play a role.

Cod liver oil (1 tsp) 1,360 IU
Salmon (3oz) 447 IU
Tuna (3oz) 154 IU
Orange Juice (Fortified, 8oz) 137 IU
Milk (Fortified, 8oz – non, low, whole) 124 IU
Yogurt (Fortified, 6oz ) 80 IU
Egg (Large) 41 IU

Vitamin D recommendations are easier met than calcium without dairy, especially if your diet includes consumption of fatty fish (but should be in moderation). Fortified orange juice is a good source, however juice consumption should be limited. Milk began being fortified in the early 1930’s due to an increasing prevalence of Rickets. So alhough not naturally occurring in milk, vitamin D has been a large source of vitamin D for many Americans.

Supplementation of vitamin D can be recommended in either the form of D2 or D3, but caution should be taken as vitamin D can be taken in toxic amounts. Refer here for more information and additional food sources of vitamin D.


This is only a brief look at whether dairy is necessary in a well-balanced diet. There is plenty of research on the role that types of dairy, dairy fats and dairy alternatives play on overall health that would make this a very long post if talked about. But as far as meeting vitamin D and calcium needs without dairy – my answer is yes, you can have a well-balanced diet without dairy products. However, you need to be mindful of what’s filling the rest of your plate to ensure you are getting enough vitamin D and calcium. For many of us, we do not pay enough attention to daily vitamin and mineral intake and would benefit from having dairy in moderation as a part of a healthful diet. Truthfully, I never drink milk and only occasionally have yogurt/cheese so I should probably pay more attention to this as well! If you have a true intolerance or allergy it probably wouldn’t hurt to get your levels checked and tailor your diet as needed.

Happy Wednesday!

❤ Hilarie

(Additional information I found useful…)

Nutrition Comparison: Milk and The Alternatives

Since we are talking about milk, I wanted to share this information I found very helpful. Milk alternatives can be great for those who cannot tolerate cow’s milk. However, there are many out there and I think it’s important to understand their content and how they compare.

Milk: The best source and absorption of calcium and vitamin D (out of all options noted below). Contains a good amount of protein (8 grams/8 oz). Contains about 12 grams of sugar, however, it is from a natural source called lactose.

Soy Milk: Second best to milk. Typically fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Contains a very similar content of protein (7 grams/8 oz). Sugar content is typically added, however unsweetened is an option. Soy milk also contains antioxidants and phytochemicals that have been shown to decrease heart disease, lower cholesterol and decrease certain types of cancers.

Almond milk: Can be a good alternative to milk if you are looking to cut the calorie content. However, it hardly contains any protein (1 gram/8 oz) and sugar content is typically added.

Rice milk: Not the best milk alternative. Hardly contains any protein (1 gram/8 oz) and typically contains a high amount of added sugars. Compared to the other milk alternatives it’s nutritionally poor. Fortified with vitamin A, D and B12.

Coconut milk: Contains as much fat as whole milk (in most products) and contains hardly any protein. Not much added sugars. Contains 0% calcium or vitamin D naturally, typically fortified.

Hemp milk: A good alternative for people with allergies. Protein content is closer to half that of milk (3 grams/8 oz), but may contain a minimal or a high amount of added sugar

What to choose? Choose higher protein content, no (or low) added sugars (stick to original or unsweetened) and fortified with vitamins and minerals (at least 30% Calcium and 25% Vitamin D of daily value, per 8-oz serving)


Type of Milk (1 cup) Calories Fat Sat. Fat Protein Carbs Sugars
Whole cow’s milk 150 8 g 5 g 8 g 12 g 12 g
2% cow’s milk 130 5 g 3 g 8 g 13 g 12 g
1% cow’s milk 110 2.5 g 1.5 g 8 g 13 g 12 g
Skim cow’s milk 90 0 g 0 g 8g 13 g 12 g
Soy, unsweetened 80-90 4-4.5 g 0.5 g 7-9 g 4-5 g 1-2 g
Soy, plain/original 70-130 2-4 g 0-0.5 g 5-8 g 8-16 g 6-9 g
Almond, unsweetened 30-50 2.5 g 0 g 1 g 1-5 g 0-1 g
Almond, original 50-60 2.5 g 0 g 1 g 6-8 g 5-6 g
Rice, plain 80-130 2-2.5 g 0 g 1 g 16-27 g 8-14 g
Coconut, unsweetened 50 5 g 5 g 1 g 1 g 0 g
Coconut, original 80 5 g 5 g 1 g 7 g 6 g

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