Healing Foods Pyramid™

is included in the Healing Foods Pyramid™ as part of a balanced, whole foods, plant-based diet. This Food Pyramid emphasizes foods that nourish the body, sustain energy over time, contain healing qualities and essential nutrients, and support a sustainable environment.

What are the recommended servings per day?

* The Healing Foods Pyramid™ is suitable for vegetarians and vegans in that all of the categories containing animal products are optional for consumption. One of our goals is to shift the typical meat-centered plate to one that is comprised mostly of plant-based foods. Every individual’s needs are unique. While some bodies thrive on a well-balanced vegetarian or vegan diet, others may not. Animal products provide the richest sources of absorbable vitamin B12, iron, and calcium; therefore individuals choosing not to consume animal products need to ensure adequate intake of these essential nutrients. Consult with a registered dietitian/certified nutritionist or knowledgeable health care provider regarding your individual needs.

Why choose low-fat/non-fat dairy products?

Why choose fermented/probiotic milk products such as yogurt or kefir?

Probiotic foods contain live bacteria that are normally found in the human intestines. These foods can help re-establish a healthy bacterial balance in the digestive tract that may have been disrupted by poor diet, illness, or medications. Research has shown that the live cultures in yogurt or kefir may provide many benefits, such as:

Other fermented milk products, such as low-fat/non-fat sour cream, cottage cheese, and other cheeses may have similar benefits.

Selected Food Sources with Serving Sizes

Low-fat Dairy Sources

Serving Size


Low-fat kefir

1 Cup

< 3 g per serving

Low-fat/non-fat yogurt

1 Cup

Low-fat/non-fat frozen yogurt

1 Cup

Low-fat/non-fat cottage cheese

1/2 Cup

Low-fat/non-fat cream cheese

1 Tbsp

Low-fat/non-fat sour cream

2 Tbsp

Part-skim ricotta cheese

1 oz (1/8 Cup)

Part-skim mozzarella

1 oz

Skim milk (non-fat), 1/2%, or 1%

1 Cup

Specific Considerations

Choosing low-fat/non-fat dairy products

Full-fat cheese

Although full-fat cheese is high in total fat and saturated fat, small amounts of natural, minimally processed cheese can be an important dietary component. The Mediterranean diet, known for its health benefits, includes small amounts of cheese daily. Full-fat cheese should be consumed in small portions.

Examples of Full-fat Cheeses

Up to 1 serving per day
Serving size 1-2 oz
Soft Brie, Mascarpone, Goat
Semi-hard Blue, Feta
Hard Cheddar, Swiss
Very hard Parmesan, Romano

Lactose Intolerance

Many people are lactose intolerant, meaning that they lack the enzyme lactase that breaks down the natural sugar (lactose) found in dairy products. Around the world prevalence of lactose intolerance varies; approximately 90% of Asians, 70% of African and Native Americans and 50% of Hispanics are lactose intolerant, versus only about 15% of people of Northern European descent.

Lactose intolerance can cause bloating, gas, and stomach aches after intake of dairy products. Symptoms may be avoided by choosing fermented dairy products such as yogurt or lactose-free milk, or avoiding dairy products all together.

Casein Sensitivity

The milk protein casein, found in dairy products, stimulates the production of mucus in some people and can potentially aggravate conditions like asthma, bronchitis or sinusitis. Some studies suggest that casein may also irritate the immune system, which should be considered by people who have “overactive immune systems” — often manifested by chronic allergies, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and other auto-immune disorders.


Cow’s milk is not the best choice for infants because it is high in saturated fat, protein, and casein, which infants cannot properly digest. Most infant formulas are altered to be easier for the infant digestive system. Check with your health care provider if you have questions but remember, in many cases- breast milk is the best milk!

Consider Organic

Many organic dairy products are commercially available. Organic low-fat dairy is free of antibiotic and hormone residues, which can be potentially harmful to health.

Know Your Limits for Fat

Dairy products can be a significant source of fat in the diet. We recommend primarily low-fat dairy products in moderation as a healthy part of a balanced diet.

Ideas for Your Dairy Consumption


Added Hormones in Meat and Dairy — Do They Affect Health and If So, How?
Barrett, Amanda
Somerset Medical Center — Healthy Living — Food and Nutrition
Accessed May 28, 2009

Calcium & Milk — What’s Best For Your Bones?
Harvard School of Public Health
Accessed May 28, 2009

Cheese, Feta maybe we don’t need these?
USDA Agricultural Research Service — Nutrient Data Laboratory
Accessed May 28, 2009

Cheese, mozzarella, part skim milk, low moisture
USDA Agricultural Research Service — Nutrient Data Laboratory
Accessed May 28, 2009

Meatless Monday
Accessed May 28, 2009

A Food Labeling Guide — Appendix A
Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
U. S. Food and Drug Administration
Accessed May 28, 2009

Milk, lowfat, fluid, 1% milkfat, with added vitamin A
USDA Agricultural Research Service — Nutrient Data Laboratory
Accessed May 28, 2009

A Primer on Fats and Oils
American Dietetic Association
Accessed May 28, 2009

Prebiotics and Probiotics: What Are They and Why Should I Eat Them?
Dixon, Suzanne
U of M Comprehensive Cancer Center
Accessed May 28, 2009

Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin B12
National Institutes of Health
Office of Dietary Supplements
Accessed May 28, 2009

Yogurt, fruit, low fat, 10 grams protein per 8 ounce
USDA Agricultural Research Service — Nutrient Data Laboratory
Accessed May 28, 2009

Original Research and Review Articles

Adolfsson O, et al. Yogurt and gut function. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2004;80:245-256.

Chen C, et al. Kefir extracts suppress in vitro proliferation of estrogen-dependent human breast cancer cells but not normal mammary epithelial cells. Journal of Medicinal Food. 2007; 10 (3): 416-422.

De Vrese M, et al. Probiotics — compensation for lactase insufficiency. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2001; 73(suppl): 421s-429s.

Hekmat S, et al. Survival of lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium bifidum in ice cream for use as a probiotic food. Journal of Dairy Science. 1992;75:1415-1422.

Kissling G, et al. Long-term consumption of fermented dairy products over 6 months increases HDL cholesterol. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2002;56:843-849.

Lanou, A. Should dairy be recommended as a part of a healthy vegetarian diet? American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009; 89 (suppl): 1638s-42s.

Melnik, B. Milk — The promoter of chronic Western diseases. Medical Hypothesis. 2009; 72: 631-639.

Saffert A, et al. Effect of package light transmittance on the vitamin content of pasteurized whole milk. Packaging Technology. 2006; 19: 211-218.

Senok AC, et al. Probiotics: facts and myths. Clinical Microbiology and Infection. 2005;11:958-966.

Tabbers MM, et al. Effect of the consumption of a fermented dairy product containing Bifidobacterium lactis BN-173 010 on constipation in childhood: a multicentre randomized controlled trial. BMC Pediatrics. 2009; 9:22 doi: 10.1186/1471-2431/9/22.

Teegarden D. The influence of dairy product consumption on body composition. Journal of Nutrition. 2005;135:2749-2752.

Tigges, B. Infant formulas: practical answers for common questions. The Nurse Practitioner. 1997; 22 (8): 72-87.

The Healing Foods Pyramid™ was created by the Nutrition Education Team at the University of Michigan Integrative Medicine, Department of Family Medicine in 2005 and updated in 2009.