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Dairy foods

Reduced fat dairy and its alternatives are important parts of a heart-healthy diet. Most people aren’t getting enough from this food group – try to find ways to include them every day.

Everyday dairy foods include milk, cheese and yoghurt. Alternatives to dairy are foods made from soy, rice, cereal or nuts for example, with at least 100 mg added calcium per 100 g.

These foods provide calcium in the diet, essential for strong bones and teeth. A good calcium intake will help to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Milk, cheese and yoghurt also provide protein, vitamins A and D, iodine, zinc and vitamins B6 and B2 (riboflavin).

Eating reduced fat milk, cheese and yoghurt as part of a heart healthy diet can also protect against heart disease and stroke, and reduce the risk of high blood pressure and some cancers.

What to choose

Choose reduced fat milk, cheese and yoghurt.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that reduced fat dairy products are best for most people over 2 years old.

Most of the fat in milk, cheese and yoghurt is saturated. Cutting down how much saturated fat you eat, and including food with unsaturated fat, helps reduce the risk of heart disease. That’s why we recommend replacing full fat dairy products with reduced fat ones. Alternatives like soy, rice, cereal, legume, oat and nut milks are generally low in saturated fat too. Look for calcium-enriched versions of these.

Although milk doesn’t have as much saturated fat as foods like cheese, many of us have milk every day, perhaps several times a day. So using reduced fat milk instead of full fat milk is a simple way to include important dairy foods in your diet, while cutting down on saturated fat. Read more about saturated fat.

Ice cream, butter and cream

Dairy foods like ice cream, cream and butter should only be eaten sometimes, and in small amounts. The health benefits of milk, cheese and yoghurt don’t extend to these ‘sometimes’ foods. They’re high in saturated fat, and ice cream is also high in added sugar.

Flavoured milk and yoghurt

It’s not always easy to persuade your kids to have the dairy foods they need each day. Plain, reduced fat milk and yoghurt are best, but flavourings can be helpful for those who don’t like the taste of plain products. Other options include adding fresh fruit on top of yoghurt, or to milk to make a smoothie.

How much to eat

Aim for 2-4 serves of reduced fat milk, cheese and yoghurt or alternatives each day.

The recommended number of serves depends on your age and gender. For more information on what’s right for you, visit the Australian Dietary Guidelines website or talk to an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

Milk, cheese, yoghurt and alternatives
(aim for 2-4 serves a day, mostly reduced fat)
1 serve
fresh, UHT long life, reconstituted powdered milk or buttermilk 1 cup (250 ml)
evaporated milk ½ cup (120 ml)
hard cheese, like cheddar

 2 slices (40 g)

a 4 x 3 x 2 cm cube (40 g)

ricotta cheese ½ cup (120 g)
yoghurt ¾ cup (200 g)
soy, rice or other cereal drink with at least 100 mg of added calcium per 100 ml  1 cup (250 ml)

Tips for including dairy in your diet

  • Enjoy a reduced fat latte on your way to work.
  • Enjoy a bowl of wholegrain breakfast cereal with reduced fat yoghurt or milk, fruit, nuts and seeds to start your day.
  • Include reduced fat yoghurt or evaporated milk instead of cream or butter at the end of cooking soups and curries to add a creamy texture. Add the yoghurt at the end of the cooking process so it doesn’t split.
  • Add reduced fat cheese with tomato and avocado to wholegrain crackers.

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