Is it easy to replace milk, cheese and yogurt with other foods?

The answer is no, it’s not easy to replace milk, cheese and yogurt, not in a healthy dietary pattern. 

That’s because every serving of milk contains nine essential nutrients in a unique combination not naturally found in a comparable serving of many other foods.

In fact, milk is the number one food source of nine essential nutrients for children and six essential nutrients for adults. National dietary survey data (NHANES 2011-2014) shows on average that dairy foods (milk, cheese and yogurt) provide more than 50 percent of the calcium and vitamin D in the diets of Americans aged 2 and older, as well as approximately a quarter of the vitamin A, vitamin B12, phosphorus and riboflavin per day.

In a modeling study, when researchers removed one serving of dairy foods from USDA food patterns for Americans 9 years or older, they found that calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin A and vitamin D dropped significantly. Replacing dairy foods with other food sources of calcium within a healthy diet pattern would require a significant change in most Americans’ eating habits, including having more than one serving of a fortified soy beverage or bony fish or more than two servings of leafy greens just to equal the calcium in one cup of milk. Calcium is only one of nine essential nutrients in milk. As this infographic illustrates, three glasses of milk has the same amount of protein as four large eggs and the same amount of vitamin B12 as in one pound of pork chops.

One reason people may seek alternatives to milk is lactose intolerance. However, people with the condition can generally still enjoy certain dairy foods like lactose-free milk. The Dietary Guidelines recognizes that healthy eating patterns that include recommended amounts of dairy foods are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes. Milk, cheese and yogurt also provide essential nutrients like protein and calcium, which is why it’s important to use simple strategies for keeping dairy foods in meal plans, such as trying lactose-free milk or eating yogurt with active cultures or hard cheeses.

Some people may not realize they can’t easily replace the nutrients in dairy foods with other foods while staying within calorie limits. But eating milk, yogurt or cheese every day as part of a healthy eating pattern has a substantial nutritional payoff and doesn’t have to be boring. Check here for some creative ways to add dairy pizzazz to everyday meals and here for three healthful reasons to include dairy in your routine.