Insights & Actions for Healthy Living

Which milk should I give my family?

There are more and more options for dairy milk or non-dairy milk products that many people are beginning to wonder the same thing.

Some may be finding just which milk to choose for themselves and their family confusing. Results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found in 2009-2010 almost 50% of people surveyed reported never having 1% or skim/nonfat milk available at home.

Your supermarket carries many types of milk but there are also other options such as goat’s milk and raw milk available if that is what you wish to use. There are pros and cons for using raw milk that you should learn about before choosing it.

In terms of cow’s milk, you have the option of skim/nonfat milk, low-fat milk, reduced fat milk and whole milk. Whole milk is recommended for children between the age of one and two years. After the age of two, health experts agree that we all should choose skim or low fat milk due to the lower fat content.

All cow’s milk have similar nutrients but differ in calories and fat according to the fat content. Milk is a great source of calcium, Vitamin D, potassium, protein, and other nutrients.

Here is a breakdown of the fat content of cow’s milk:

  • Whole milk is 4% fat
  • Reduced fat milk is 2% fat
  • Low fat milk is 1% fat
  • Skim/nonfat milk is 0% fat

If you or someone in your family has lactose intolerance, there are lactose free milk products available such as Lactaid Milk and other dairy products. You can also choose non-dairy milk if you are allergic or wanting to opt for plant based nutrient sources. Your options here include soy, almond (and some other nuts) or rice milk.

Soy milk is the closest in nutritional content to cow’s milk and through fortification can be higher in some nutrients than cow’s milk. Almond milk contains lower protein and other nutrients than cow’s milk so be sure you are getting enough other sources of protein and nutrients in your diet if this is your choice. Many like the flavor of almond milk. Rice milk is helpful for those with food allergies but can be lower in nutrients and higher in carbohydrates.

This table details MyPlate recommendations for the amount of foods we should include from the dairy group each day (this could be milk as well as other dairy products such as yogurt, cheese, fortified soy, pudding or ice cream).


 AgeServing Size
Children 2-3 years old
4-8 years old
2 cups
2 ½ cups
Girls 9-18 years old3 cups
Boys 9-18 years old 3 cups
Women >19 years old 3 cups
Men >19 years old3 cups

Dairy foods including milk are important for us all to have strong bones and teeth. Milk and milk products no matter which you choose are part of a healthy, varied diet and shouldn’t be left off the plate at any age.

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