Milk Matters

Stumped about the role of dairy on the plan? Read on.
Glass of milk

When I first joined Weight Watchers, I didn't realize that, as a 30-something woman, I was supposed to consume a certain number of milk products each day. Two to be exact, and three once I hit my fifties. When I realized that this was the case, I was not a happy woman. First, a girl needs every last PointsPlus value she has, and I wasn't thrilled about the possibility of giving up a "treat" to cover some "requirement." Second, I wasn't sure why dairy was such a plan cornerstone.

Now, as a Leader, I hear the same questions I had over and over from members, so I did a little research. Here are answers to some of the frequently asked questions about dairy and the plan.

What constitutes a milk product?
According to the team of experts who develop our program materials, calcium can be found in many foods, including milk, yogurt, cheese, calcium-fortified tofu products, canned salmon, sardines, dark leafy vegetables and broccoli. But calcium alone does not constitute a milk serving. On the Weight Watchers' plan, a milk serving must include nutrients such as protein, zinc, potassium, riboflavin, vitamin B12 and vitamin D because the calcium in milk works with them to build strong bones.

Why do I need to consume two or more servings of dairy daily?
According to Stephanie Rost, MS, RD, Program Development Manager for Weight Watchers, milk servings are a key recommendation of the US Dietary Guidelines and are included in the Weight Watchers plan because they contain vital nutrients for health. Current media campaigns tout milk and calcium as weight-loss aids. But Schoemer says that there's simply not enough evidence to support the theory that calcium acts as any sort of fat burner or speeds the rate of weight loss. What milk does is promote bone health and helps to prevent osteoporosis. It may also reduce the risk of colon cancer and high blood pressure.

What if I am lactose intolerant?
For those who can't tolerate lactose, the major sugar found in milk, there are several ways to get the nutrients found in milk servings into your diet. First of all, drinking milk in smaller amounts (1-2 servings a day) with food can help diminish symptoms. Choosing foods like yogurt with live active cultures can help to digest lactose, and several aged cheeses like Cheddar and Swiss are low in lactose. There are also several lactose-free milk products on the market. But if you still can't fit in 2-3 milk servings a day, there are calcium supplements and calcium-fortified foods, such as juices, soy milks and even some breads to consider.

Is ice cream a milk product?
Unfortunately, no. That's because a "milk serving" needs to contain more than just calcium in small amounts. Ice cream includes many nutrients, but in such small amounts that you'd need to consume too much of it to have it qualify.

For me, my dairy dilemma had a happy ending. I found that milk servings can be extremely satisfying, and, in the long run, they've replaced some of the "treats" that I held onto so dearly. A low-fat yogurt instead of two low-fat cookies gives me a virtuous feeling that guides the rest of my choices for the day!

Milk products and the Required Servings*

Milk Product Required Serving Size PointsPlus values
Milk 1%
(fat-free, low-fat or powdered)
1 cup 3
Soy Milk, fat-free
(unflavored plain calcium-fortified)
1 cup 2
Cottage Cheese 1%
2 cups 8
Hard or semi-soft cheese, fat-free
Any type, fat-free or low-fat
1 ½ fl oz 2
Ricotta cheese
Fat-free or part-skim
½ cup 4
Dairy Shake
Reduced calorie
1 Packet 2
(unsweetened, made with low-fat milk)
12 fl oz 4
Pudding, fat-free
sugar-free mix (made with fat-free milk)
1 cup 4
Yogurt, low-fat plain
(plain, flavored, regular, low-fat or fat-free)
1 cup or 8 fl oz 4
Weight Watchers Smoothie
(prepared with water)
1 Packet 2
(unsweetened, made with 1% milk)
16 fl oz 2

*The PointsPlus values are mainly for low-fat milk products that are highlighted in the first column, but fat-free products count as well, though you may need to adjust their PointsPlus values. Keep in mind that only "non-fat" (0% milk fat) and "low-fat" (typically labeled as 1% milk fat) items count towards the Weight Watchers Good Health Guidelines for dairy. "Reduced-fat" items (typically labeled as 2% milk fat) do not.

**On both plans, you can opt for smaller portions than the full serving and count them toward your milk servings for the day. For example, if you want to eat just one cup of cottage cheese, it qualifies as a half a dairy serving.

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