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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Diet and Nutrition > Cows' Milk
      Category : Health Centers > Food, Nutrition, and Metabolism

Cows' Milk

Overview & Description | Functions and Sources

Cows' milk is a key part of a healthy diet for adults and for children older than age 1. Milk provides your body with energy, protein, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, riboflavin, and other nutrients. Experts agree that breast-feeding is the preferred way to feed an infant for the first year of life. But if you can't breast-feed or don't want to, use man-made infant formulas rather than cows' milk to feed your baby. These formulas are usually made from cows' milk or soy but have iron and other key nutrients added to them. Also, the protein in formula is changed to make it easier for your baby to digest. Store-bought infant formula provides good nutrition for a baby. But it does lack certain factors found in breast milk that help protect a baby against infection and allergies.


Cows' milk is a key part of most healthy diets for adults and children older than age 1. But infants should not drink cows' milk because it does not have the right amounts of nutrients for human babies. Cows' milk, after all, was intended to feed calves.

The protein in cows' milk is not the same as that found in human breast milk and man-made infant formulas. It is harder for an infant to digest and absorb. Also, an infant's body has a hard time absorbing the iron found in cows' milk.

Once a child has reached age 1, whole cows' milk may be started in place of breast milk or formula as long as the baby can tolerate it. Health experts do not advise feeding low-fat dairy products to children less than age 2. Two percent milk and fat-free milk are two examples of low-fat dairy foods.

Fat does not need to be limited in the diets of children under the age of 2. In fact, experts recommend whole-milk products for children between the ages of 1 and 2. This ensures that the child gets the amount of fat he or she needs for normal growth and development of the brain and nervous system. As children age, the amount of energy they need depends on their activity level and rate of growth. For children ages 2 to 5, low-fat or fat-free milk provides enough nutrients for growth and development.

For many children 5 years and older, energy needs can be met with a diet that includes fat-free milk. As children grow up, other foods may become the main source of calories and protein. During years of peak bone growth, cows' milk provides a rich source of calcium and vitamin D. During the later adult years, getting enough calcium and vitamin D in the diet continues to be key. Drinking enough milk each day can help prevent the loss of calcium from your bones that can lead to a disease called osteoporosis.

The recommended amounts of (cows') milk group servings you need daily are as follows:

  • None for infants age 0 to 12 months
  • Two servings for young and school-age children
  • Three servings for teenagers and young adults up to age 24
  • Two servings for adults over age 24
  • Three servings for pregnant or breast-feeding women
  • One serving equals:

  • 1 cup of milk or yogurt
  • 1.5 ounces of natural cheese
  • 2 ounces of processed cheese
  • The difference between whole milk, low-fat milk, and fat-free milk and dairy products is the fat and calorie content. Fat-free milk and milk products have the same amount of vitamins and minerals, including calcium, as whole milk. What they don't have is the saturated fat and extra calories. Dairy products are a key part of your daily diet.

    Some studies have suggested a link between the early use of cows' milk in young infants and type 1 diabetes. The American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes this possible link. In response, it strongly supports breast-feeding rather than cows' milk during the first year of life. There are no credible experts who say that children over age 1 need to avoid milk or dairy products.


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    Cows' Milk: Functions and Sources

    Author: Clare Armstrong, MS, RD
    Reviewer: Susan Harrow Rago, RD, MS
    Date Reviewed: 10/10/01

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