Replacing the nutrients in dairy foods with non-dairy foods will increase cost, energy intake and require large amounts of food: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2011-2014

Public Health Nutr. 2022 Feb;25(2):332-343. doi: 10.1017/S1368980020001937. Epub 2020 Jul 27.


Objective: The US Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends increased consumption of the dairy group to three daily servings for ages 9+ years to help achieve adequate intakes of prominent shortfall nutrients. Identifying affordable, consumer-acceptable foods to replace dairy's shortfall nutrients is important especially for people who avoid dairy.

Design: Linear programming identified food combinations to replace dairy's protein and shortfall nutrients. We examined cost, energy and dietary implications of replacing dairy with food combinations optimised for lowest cost, fewest kJ or the smallest amount of food by weight.

Setting: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2011-2014).

Participants: Nationally representative sample of US population; 2 years and older (n 15 830).

Results: Phase 1 (only dairy foods excluded): when optimised for lowest cost or fewest kJ, all non-dairy food replacements required large amounts (2·5-10 cups) of bottled/tap water. Phase 2 (dairy and unreasonable non-dairy foods excluded (e.g. baby foods; tap/bottled water): when intake of non-dairy foods was constrained to <90th percentile of current intake, the lowest cost food combination replacements for dairy cost 0·5 times more and provide 5·7 times more energy; the lowest energy food combinations cost 5·9 times more, provide 2·5 times more energy and require twice the amount of food by weight; and food combinations providing the smallest amount of food by weight cost 3·5 times more and provide five times more energy than dairy.

Conclusions: Identifying affordable, consumer-acceptable foods that can replace dairy's shortfall nutrients at both current and recommended dairy intakes remains a challenge.

Keywords: Dairy; Linear programming optimisation; National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey; Nutrient adequacy; Shortfall nutrients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Diet
  • Energy Intake*
  • Food*
  • Humans
  • Nutrients
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • United States