Dairy foods such as milk, yoghurt and cheese are a rich source of dietary nutrients. They provide a good source of dietary calcium and contain protein, vitamin A, vitamin B 12, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, riboflavin and zinc. Table 1 shows the calcium content of some common dairy foods.
Average calcium content of dairy foods
|Food Source||Serve Size||Calcium|
|Full cream milk||250mL||285mg|
|Low fat yoghurt||200g||420mg|
Foods and beverages high in calcium may contribute to stronger bones and teeth. There is also some evidence that dairy foods and calcium play a role in the prevention of heart disease and weight management.
What about the risk of cancer?
In terms of cancer risk, dairy foods and calcium have shown both protective and harmful effects. Overall the proven health benefits of dairy foods outweigh the unproven harms.
Milk probably protects against bowel cancer, and there is some suggestive evidence that it can reduce the risk of bladder cancer. There is limited suggestive evidence that milk and dairy foods increase the risk of prostate cancer, and cheese increases the risk of bowel cancer.
There appears to be no significant association between the consumption of dairy products and the risk of breast or ovarian cancer.
Calcium supplements probably protect against bowel cancer. However diets high in calcium have been linked with an increase in the risk of prostate cancer. Therefore there is still not enough evidence to recommend people take calcium supplements for cancer prevention.
Should I eat dairy foods?
Dairy foods should be eaten as part of a varied and nutritious diet to help maintain healthy bones and teeth. However for those who prefer to avoid dairy products, it is recommended that alternatives foods that are either a source of calcium or have added calcium are chosen. Cancer Council supports the Australian Dietary Guidelines, which encourage people to eat at least two and a half serves of dairy foods (milk, yoghurt and cheese) or alternatives each day. Cancer Council encourages people to choose reduced fat varieties.
Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) of calcium for men and women
|Gender||Age Group||Approximate serves/day|
|Men||19-70 years||2½ serves|
|>70 years||3½ serves|
|Women||19-50 years||2½ serves|
|>50 years||4 serves|
In Australia, people don’t get enough calcium in their diet. It is estimated that more than 25% of men and 50% of women eat less than the recommended number of serves. Of concern are children and teenagers not receiving sufficient calcium while their bones grow and those older Australians who are at risk of osteoporosis.
What is a serve?
One serve of dairy equals:
- 1 cup milk
- 200g yoghurt
- 40g hard cheese (roughly the size of a matchbox, or 2 slices)
- ½ cup ricotta cheese
The following non-dairy foods are equal to a serve of calcium:
- 1 cup calcium fortified soy or rice milk, or other cereal beverage with at lease 100mg added calcium per 100mL
- 100g (about ½ cup) almonds
- 60g sardines or ½ cup (100g) pink salmon with bones
- 100g firm tofu
Easy ways to include dairy foods in your diet
Practical and healthy ways to increase the intake of dairy foods in the diet include:
- Enjoy a smoothie made with reduced fat milk and fresh banana or berries.
- Drink a glass of low fat milk for a snack.
- Enjoy a bowl of high-fibre cereal at breakfast with low fat milk and chopped fruit.
- Make ice blocks by freezing milk or yoghurt on a stick. Blend with fruit for greater variety.
- Choose desserts made with milk e.g. rice puddings, custards, junkets, milk jellies, jelly whips.
- Add skim milk powder to cake mixtures, soups, mornays, mashed potato, casseroles and sauces.
- Try low fat vanilla yoghurt with passionfruit or natural muesli.
- Use low fat yoghurt as a dip with vegetable sticks.
- Have a fruit salad and top with low fat yoghurt.
- Try serving low fat natural yoghurt with chopped mint or coriander as an accompaniment to lamb or Indian flavoured dishes.
- Choose a tub of low fat yoghurt as a snack.
- Make your own toasted sandwich or open melt with low fat tasty cheese and fillings such as chicken and asparagus or grilled vegetables and pesto.
- Cook a vegetable lasagne or pasta bake and top with grated low fat tasty cheese.
- Crumble feta cheese over a garden salad.
- Slice low fat tasty cheese into cubes and serve with rice crackers as a snack.
- Bake potatoes in the oven and stuff them with vegetables and grated low fat tasty cheese.
- Use low fat cream cheese as a spread on sandwiches instead of butter.
- Add a cheesy sauce to vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower.
- Include low fat tasty cheese in an omelette.
- Serve shaved Parmesan cheese over the top of pasta dishes and risottos.
- Whip up a bean dip by mashing baked beans and adding some chilli and grated low fat tasty cheese, heat before serving.
- Make a pizza with wholemeal Lebanese bread and top with lots of vegetables and some mozzarella cheese.
- Try a salad made with rocket, pear, slices of Parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar.
Download the Dairy Foods, Calcium and Cancer Position Statement here.