Recent studies suggest dairy consumption and associated nutrients may be protective against some of the components of the metabolic syndrome (MetS). We examined the association between consumption of a variety of dairy products and their related nutrients with obesity, central obesity, and MetS, and attempted to explain some of the ethnic differences in metabolic outcomes through dairy consumption using national data. Nationally representative indicators of obesity, central obesity, and MetS among US adults were constructed from National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2004 data, including direct anthropometric assessments, blood pressure, and laboratory tests. Sample sizes ranged from 4519 for MetS to 14 618 for obesity. Associations between diet (assessed using 24-h recalls) and metabolic and other outcomes were tested using multivariate linear and logistic models and structural equation models. We found a significant inverse association between intake of whole milk, yogurt, calcium, and magnesium and metabolic disorders. Odds ratios for one more daily serving of yogurt and 100 mg Mg for MetS were 0.40 (95% CI: 0.18, 0.89) and 0.83 (95% CI: 0.72, 0.96), respectively. The opposite was found for intakes of cheese, low-fat milk, and phosphorus. Using structural equation models, ethnic differences in some MetS outcomes, such as body mass index and systolic blood pressure, were partly explained by variations in dairy-related nutrients. Various dairy products may have differential associations with metabolic disorders, including obesity. Ethnic differences in dairy consumption may explain in part the ethnic disparities in metabolic disorders in the US population.