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Dietary Guidelines for Americans Find Additional Essential Nutrients in Milk

April 23, 2021

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are reviewed every five years. The most recent Dietary Guidelines were released in December 2020 for 2020-2025. In the new guidelines, dairy is credited with four additional essential nutrients than previously defined. 

Before the latest update, dairy was documented as providing nine (9) essential nutrients. Based on the latest guidelines, dairy now provides 13 essential nutrients. Essential nutrients are compounds that the body can’t make or can’t make in sufficient amounts. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), these nutrients must come from food and they’re vital for disease prevention, growth and good health. 

Essential Nutrients Found in Dairy

Milk is one of the most nutrient-dense beverages you can consume. Nutrient-dense foods and beverages provide vitamins, minerals, and other health-promoting components and have little added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium. Not only does milk provide 13 essential nutrients, but it’s also a healthy source of carbohydrates and water, making it nutritious and hydrating. One serving of milk contains the following 13 essential nutrients your body needs. 

Original 9 Essential Nutrients Defined in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans

  1. Vitamin B12: 50% DV:
    Vitamin B12 helps build red blood cells that carry oxygen from the lungs to working muscles, helps with normal blood function and helps keep the nervous system healthy. It’s only naturally found in animal products.
  2. Riboflavin: 30% DV:
    Known as vitamin B2, Riboflavin helps convert food into energy, such as converting carbohydrates, fats and protein into fuel.
  3. Calcium: 25% DV:
    Our bodies don’t produce calcium naturally, so it’s crucial we get enough from our diet. Calcium helps maintain strong teeth and bones, it also plays an important role in nerve function, muscle contraction and blood clotting.
  4. Phosphorus: 20% DV:
    Working with calcium, phosphorus helps to build and strengthen bones. It also plays an important role in making protein for growth, maintenance and repair of tissues.
  5. Protein: 16% DV:
    There are two main types of protein found in milk, casein and whey protein. Protein helps build and repair muscle tissue, as well as serve as a source of energy. Milk is considered a complete, high-quality protein because it contains all nine essential amino acids necessary for your body to function at an optimal level.
  6. Vitamin D: 15% DV:
    Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium and enhances bone mineralization. Without vitamin D, your calcium intake would be ineffective. That’s why it’s added to milk.
  7. Vitamin A: 15% DV:
    Vitamin A helps maintain normal vision and skin. It also helps regulate cell growth and maintains the integrity of the immune system.
  8. Niacin: 15% DV:
    Also known as vitamin B3, Niacin is involved in the metabolism of sugars and fatty acids, helping convert food to energy. It also helps keep your nervous system, digestive system and skin healthy.
  9. Potassium: 10% DRI:
    Potassium helps regulate the body’s fluid balance, helps maintain normal blood pressure and is needed for muscle activity and contraction.

Additional 4 Essential Nutrients as Defined in the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines1

  1. Iodine: 60% DV
    Iodine is necessary for proper bone and brain development during pregnancy and infancy. It’s linked to cognitive function in childhood.
  2. Pantothenic Acid: 20% DV
    Pantothenic Acid helps your body use carbohydrates, fats and protein for fuel.
  3. Zinc: 10% DV
    Zinc helps maintain a healthy immune system, helps support normal growth and development, and helps maintain healthy skin.
  4. Selenium: 10% DV
    Selenium helps maintain a healthy immune system, helps regulate metabolism and helps protect healthy cells from damage.

The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.2

About the Dietary Guidelines for Americans

The Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services update and release the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It was first released in 1980 and is re-evaluated every five years. Learn more here.


  1. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 online at
  2. USDA FoodData Central online at Mean values calculated from database entries across all fat levels of plain vitamin D-fortified fluid milk in Legacy, Foundation, and Survey (FNDDS) data sources.

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