The role of dairy foods and related nutrients in cardiometabolic health aetiology is poorly understood. We investigated longitudinal associations between the metabolic syndrome (MetS) and its components with key dairy product exposures. We used prospective data from a bi-racial cohort of urban adults (30–64 years at baseline (n 1371)), the Healthy Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity across the Life Span (HANDLS), in Baltimore City, MD (2004–2013). The average of two 24-h dietary recalls measured 4–10 d apart was computed at baseline (V1) and follow-up (V2) waves. Annual rates of change (Δ) in dairy foods and key nutrients were estimated. Incident obesity, central obesity and the MetS were determined. Among key findings, in the overall urban adult population, both cheese and yogurt (V1 and Δ) were associated with an increased risk of central obesity (hazard ratio (HR) 1·13; 95 % CI 1·05, 1·23 per oz equivalent of cheese (V1); HR 1·21; 95 % CI 1·01, 1·44 per fl oz equivalent of yogurt (V1)]. Baseline fluid milk intake (V1 in cup equivalents) was inversely related to the MetS (HR 0·86; 95 % CI 0·78, 0·94), specifically to dyslipidaemia–TAG (HR 0·89; 95 % CI 0·81, 0·99), although it was directly associated with dyslipidaemia–HDL-cholesterol (HR 1·10; 95 % CI 1·01, 1·21). Furthermore, ΔCa and ΔP were inversely related to dyslipidaemia–HDL and MetS incidence, respectively, whereas Δdairy product fat was positively associated with incident TAG–dyslipidaemia and HDL-cholesterol–dyslipidaemia and the MetS. A few of those associations were sex and race specific. In sum, various dairy product exposures had differential associations with metabolic disturbances. Future intervention studies should uncover how changes in dairy product components over time may affect metabolic disorders.