Some types of dairy foods include yogurt, milk and cheese. The U.S. Department of Agriculture considers any food that is a product of liquid milk to be dairy.
The USDA recommends choosing low-fat or non-fat milk, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products. Products that have a high calcium content count toward a person's daily dairy intake, while low-calcium products, such as butter, cream and cream cheese, do not. While these products are technically dairy, they are not considered dairy on the USDA's food pyramid.
Adult women and men should consume three servings of dairy products daily, while children should consume two to three servings daily. A serving is 1 cup of milk, 1/2 cup of evaporated milk, 1/3 cup of shredded cheese, 1 cup of ricotta cheese or 1 cup of yogurt. Soy milk also counts as a dairy serving because of its similar nutritional content. A serving of soy milk is 1 cup.
The majority of a person's dairy should come from whole sources, although processed dairy desserts count toward dairy requirements. For instance, a serving of dairy can be 1 cup of pudding, 1 cup of frozen yogurt or 1 1/2 cups of ice cream. For these dairy desserts to count, they must contain real milk.
It is important to know that even if a food is made from milk, it is not necessarily a dairy food. For example, butter, cream, and cream cheese have very little calcium despite being made from milk and therefore are not considered dairy foods. It is recommended to choose dairy foods that are low-fat or fat-free in order to avoid consuming too many empty calories.
Non-milk dairy foods are also available. Many calcium fortified non-dairy milks, such as soymilk and almond milk, exist for individuals who cannot have milk products, like vegans or lactose intolerant individuals. Similarly, there are lactose-free yogurts and cheeses.
For individuals seeking calcium-rich foods, many other options are available as well besides milk, yogurt, and cheese. Leafy greens such as kale, bok choy and collard greens have very high calcium levels. Some beans and canned fish are also rich in calcium. Other foods such as orange juice or dry cereals may also be fortified with calcium.