The Importance of Low-Fat and Fat-Free Dairy

girl drinking milk Dairy products are an essential part of our daily diet, especially for kids who are currently at, or reaching the peak of bone formation. The USDA is pressing for parents and children over age 2 to switch from whole dairy to low-fat or fat-free dairy. With so many dairy options available, parents need to learn why low-fat and fat-free dairy is the healthier option.

What is a Dairy Product?

Dairy products include milks, cheese, yogurt, calcium-fortified soy beverages and much more! Check here for a more extensive list.

Whole Milk

Don’t avoid whole milk altogether! The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children ages 1-2 years consume whole milk. During this period of rapid growth, fats in whole milk play an important role in children’s brain development.  After age 2, parents are encouraged to switch their children over to low-fat or fat-free milks.

Why Choose Low-Fat Dairy for Children Over Age 2?

Whole dairy products can be high in saturated fats, which can increase the body’s levels of “bad” cholesterol (low density lipoproteins – LDL). Saturated fats are fats that are solid at room temperature, such as butter, which can raise the body’s LDL levels. Together, consumption of saturated fat and LDL cholesterol can increase your child’s long-term risk of heart disease. Cholesterol builds up in your arteries over time, eventually clogging them and preventing blood flow.

What is Considered Low-Fat and Fat-Free?

Whole = 3.25% fat

Reduced-Fat = 2% fat

Low-Fat = 1% fat

Fat-free (Non-fat, skim) = 0% fat

What about Chocolate and Flavored Milks?

White milk is always the best. While chocolate and flavored milks have the same amount of calcium as white milk, they can also include  added sugar. For picky eaters, flavored milks may be the way to go, but remember to pick low-fat options!

How Much Dairy do My Kids Need?

The USDA recommendations vary with age:

Age                 Daily Recommendation

2-3 years ……………. 2 cups

4-8 years ……………. 2.5 cups

9+ years ……………… 3 cups


Bertilia Yee-Ngar Trieu and Tisa Hill, Cornell University 


American Academy of Pediatrics: Growing Up Healthy: Fat, Cholesterol  and More  

Choose MyPlate: Dairy- Healthy Benefits and Nutrients

Got Milk: Health Benefits