Updated dairy recommendations (and milky myths busted)

Dairy is an often forgotten food group, but it is an important source of nutrients like calcium for strong bones and teeth, essential minerals like iodine, zinc, vitamin A and B12, and high quality proteins like casein and whey.

There are so many different types of dairy products to choose from – full fat, reduced fat, alternative milks like soy, rice, almond, skim, half-and-half and lite, it can be confusing to know which one is right for you!

Additionally the Heart Foundation has recently changed their position on what dairy is the best to choose from, and recommends that healthy Australians can choose full fat varieties of cheese, yoghurt and unflavoured milk. This is a change from previous recommendations from the Australian Dietary Guidelines that all Australians over the age of two years are best to choose reduced fat dairy products. Recent studies have found full fat products have a neutral effect on increasing cardiovascular risk and overall evidence to support increases of LDL or low density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) is mixed. Due to this, the recommendations have changed for healthy people to help increase intake of dairy products.

Importantly, butter and dairy-based dessert products such as custard, flavoured milk and ice-cream are not recommended as they contain even higher fat and sugar levels for all people and ages.

For those who choose not to have, or cannot tolerate cow-based products, dairy alternatives like soy, almond and rice milk products are great choices, as long as you check that they are fortified with at least 100mg of calcium per 100ml on the package label.

 

What about diabetes or other conditions?

The guidelines for all people diagnosed with diabetes, heart conditions or high cholesterol is still to choose reduced fat dairy products over full fat varieties. This is to reduce the risk of increasing LDLs or low density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) in the higher fat products which could negatively affect cardiovascular health.  This means that it is best to choose low fat milk, low fat yoghurts or skim dairy products and alternatives if you are aware of any health concerns to help maintain good heart health.

 

How much dairy do I need?

Unfortunately a splash of milk in your coffee or tea does not count as a serve of dairy. What we do know is Australians are not including enough dairy products in their diet. According to the National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey (NNPAS) approximately only one in 10 Australians have enough dairy and dairy alternatives to meet their needs daily.

Our daily recommendations depend on our own requirements such as age and gender. In general we need at least two to three serves of dairy and/or dairy alternatives each day. Women over the age of 50 have a significantly higher requirement for dairy, needing four serves to meet high calcium requirements to reduce bone breakdown and risk of osteoporosis.

One serve is equal to:

  • 1 glass (250ml) of milk
  • A small tub (200g or ¾ cup) of yoghurt
  • 2 slices (40g) of hard cheese
  • ½ cup (120g) ricotta cheese
  • ½ cup (120g) evaporated milk

 

Dairy and dairy alternatives serve requirements each day:

AgeMales (serves per day)Females (serves per day)
1-31.51.5
4-821.5
9-132.5-3.53-3.5
14-183.53.5
19-502.52.5
51-702.54
70+3.54

 

Myths about dairy

  • Dairy causes phlegm and mucus to build up – not true! Mucus is usually made to protect the body from infection in response to infections or allergies, and is not scientifically associated with any dairy intake. According to the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy any thick fluid in texture, including milk, can make you feel like your throat is being coated.
  • Fresh milk is better than long life milk or UHT (Ultra High-Temperature Pasteurisation) – not true. UHT milk has minimal nutrient losses compared to fresh milk due to the process of pasteurisation in increasing the shelf life of milk. In the end, it depends on your personal preference.
  • Permeate is bad for you – not true. Permeate is naturally occurring in milk, made up of lactose (milk sugar), vitamins and minerals, and is used to help standardise milk during processing to keep lactose levels the same. Permeate is 100% milk, as it comes from milk.
  • Soy milk causes cancer and hormonal changes – not true. There is not enough evidence to support this in humans, and in fact soy products are healthy alternatives with some links to reducing breast cancer and lowering cholesterol levels. Soy products are made of polyunsaturated fats (healthy fat), provide vitamins, minerals and are low in saturated fat (harmful fat).
  • Skim milk has more sugar than full fat, and so full fat is a better choice – not exactly true. Skim milk is more concentrated milk as a result of the fat being removed, and so as a result will contain more lactose. Skim or reduced fat milk products are the best choices to make when you have a diagnosed condition such as diabetes, high cholesterol and/or heart conditions.

 

Ways to include dairy in your own diet

Including dairy and dairy alternatives at breakfast and snack times is a great way to fit in healthy, nutritious options and can help with feelings of fullness due to the protein found in dairy products. Dairy is naturally sweet due to lactose, and so is a great option for an alternative when you have a craving for something sweet.

Try these ideas:

  • Snack on a plain yoghurt and add fruit, like berries
  • Have a bowl of porridge or wholegrain cereal for breakfast with milk
  • Top fruit toast with ½ cup of ricotta and strawberries
  • Drink a glass of warm milk before bed
  • Make a milk based smoothie with some yoghurt and fruit
  • Snack on two slices of cheese spread and tomato over multigrain crackers
  • Have a milk based coffee (latte)
  • Add some cheese to your sandwich or salad
  • Replace cream, sour cream and butter in cooking with evaporated milk or yoghurt

 

Written by Neha Prasad, Dietitian

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