Calcium is an important nutrient for bone and dental health, with dairy foods being a major source of dietary calcium in Australia. Dairy foods such as milk, yoghurt and cheese are good sources of calcium, protein, vitamin A, vitamin B 12, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, riboflavin and zinc.
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.
The evidence suggests that milk probably protects against bowel cancer, and there is limited suggestive evidence that milk reduces 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 colorectal cancer. However diets high in calcium have been linked with a probable increase in the risk of prostate cancer. Therefore there is still insufficient evidence to recommend the general use of calcium supplements for cancer prevention.
Dairy foods should be encouraged as part of a varied and nutritious diet as they are essential to maintain good bone and dental health. Cancer Council supports the Australian Dietary Guidelines, which encourage people to eat at least two and a half serves of dairy foods (milk, cheese and yoghurt) or alternative sources of calcium each day.
Cancer Council encourages people to choose reduced fat varieties of dairy foods where appropriate.