Ask the Dietitian: What Kind of Milk Should You Drink and How Much?

What Kind of Milk Should You Drink and How Much?

Milk and dairy products are crucial to good nutrition, as they are the main source of calcium, potassium, and Vitamin D in the American diet1. Milk also contains high quality protein and additional important vitamins and minerals.

Decoding the Label

Fat Percentage: Two-percent, one-percent, and skim milk are simply milk from which the fat has been reduced or removed.

  • Whole Milk: 8 grams fat and 150 calories per cup
  • 2% milk: 4.7 grams fat and 122 calories per cup
  • 1% milk: 2.6 grams fat and 102 calories per cup
  • Skim: <0.5 grams fat and 80 calories per cup


Vitamin A is removed with the fat in the making of low fat and skim milks, so these varieties have added Vitamin A. Most milk of all types in the United States is fortified with Vitamin D, which helps your body absorb the calcium and phosphorus present in the milk.


Homogenization is a process that prevents the fat from separating from the fluid milk. The milk is pumped through a machine that breaks up the fat into smaller particles and disperses it, and no chemicals are added during this process.

Milk and Health

The calcium and Vitamin D in milk are essential for building and maintaining healthy bones. This is especially important from children and teens who are growing. Potassium in milk can also help to maintain a healthy blood pressure, and additional research shows that milk consumption may boost immunity, reduce the risk of diabetes, and support weight maintenance.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that Americans switch to skim or 1% milk. Lower fat milk contains the same amount of calcium and other nutrients as whole milk, but with less fat and calories.

How Much is Needed

Milk consumption per person in the US has declined by about 30% since 19752, and the typical American consumes only 52% of the recommended amount of dairy each day3. Aim for the amounts below to ensure that you and your family are getting enough dairy in your diet, and don’t forget to choose low fat and fat free dairy. 

  • Kids ages 2-3 years: 2 cups per day
  • Kids ages 4-8 years: 2 ½ cups per day
  • Children and Adults ages 9 years+: 3 cups per day

For more information on dairy and nutrition, visit the ChooseMyPlate website, or the National Dairy Council.


1. National Dairy Council 

2. “US Milk Is in Crisis,” from The Wall Street Journal

3. 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

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2 thoughts on “Ask the Dietitian: What Kind of Milk Should You Drink and How Much?

    1. Heather Brown

      D- Hemp, soy, almond, and rice milk are good alternatives to cow’s milk for those who are lactose-intolerant. These beverages are fortified with vitamins and minerals, including calcium, to make them more like cow’s milk nutritionally. Cow’s milk naturally contains many essential nutrients, making it the best choice in the dairy group. Hemp milk is however a great alternative for those who have dairy, soy, and nut allergies. If you are lactose-intolerant, try lactose-free milk.

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