Infants are the exception:
- Children less than 1-year old should not drink cow's or soy milk. Breast is best, or formula.
- Children ages 1-to-2 can drink whole cow's milk.
- Children older than 2 should drink low-fat (1%) or fat-free (skim) milk – like the rest of the family. For kids not accustomed to low-fat milk, mix it in gradually.
If you opt for full-fat dairy, drink and eat less of it – Harvard scientists recommend no more than one-to-two servings per day. And be sure to eat other foods high in calcium as well, such as leafy green vegetables, broccoli, beans or tofu.
Buy organic. Conventional dairy products have less protein and fewer healthy omega-3 fats than organic varieties. Dairy products from pasture-raised, grass-fed and organically raised cows are better for human health, the animals and the environment.
Not all dairy products are rich in calcium. Fatty foods such as cream cheese, sour cream, cream and butter have little or no calcium. Use them sparingly.
Lactose intolerant? Dairy isn't the only good source of calcium – try calcium-rich foods such as dark leafy greens, broccoli, beans or tofu. Unsweetened, fortified organic soymilk, coconut, almond, hemp and flax milk can also be good choices. Talk to your doctor about trying lactase enzymes. Be sure to read labels to make sure you're getting good nutrition for your family. And, stay away from products with added sugars.
Eat less! Use it for flavor, not to fill up. Good options include cottage cheese, queso blanco (Puerto Rican white cheese), queso fresco and ricotta. Low-fat cheddar, Colby, Monterey and mozzarella cheeses often have much less saturated fat but may have more sodium (salt) and additives.
Waste less. Freeze cheese before it starts going bad. Defrosted cheese tastes best melted.
Don't buy shredded cheese. Shred it yourself and avoid unnecessary additives.
Go for plain or unsweetened yogurts and cottage cheeses. Skip flavored, "light" and "lite" yogurts. They're often loaded with sugar, artificial sweeteners and additives. Add fresh fruit to plain yogurt or cottage cheese instead.
Substitute yogurt for cream and sour cream in recipes. Drain yogurt in a coffee filter to thicken it. To cut costs and packaging waste, buy large containers and measure out small servings.
Other useful resources:
Making cheese generates harmful greenhouse gases. Find out how cheese ranks against other foods in EWG's Meat Eater's Guide to Climate Change + Health.
Concerned about industrial farms? Check out why methods such as pasture-raised or organic may be worth the cost.
Why organic? Read why EWG nutritionist Dawn Undurraga has redoubled her family's commitment to organic food.