Low or reduced fat milk, yoghurt and cheese choices are recommended for most people two years and over. Most Australians consume only about half the recommended quantity of milk products or alternatives, but eat too many full fat varieties, which can increase the kilojoules and the saturated fat content of the diet.
Reduced fat varieties of milks are not suitable as a milk drink for children under the age of two due to their high energy needs required for growth. For nearly everyone else (over the age of two) this is the best choice.
Infants under the age of 12 months should not be given cow’s milk as a main drink.
Breast milk or specially prepared infant formula should be given to infants under 12-months of age as the main milk source.
What’s in the milk, yoghurt, cheese and / or alternative group?
A wide range of milk and yoghurt products are available with varying levels of fat. Milk can be fresh, dried, evaporated, or UHT (long life). Cheese is usually high in kilojoules, saturated fat and salt and is best limited to 2-3 times a week. However, some cheeses also have reduced levels of fat and salt. Examples of milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives include:
- Milks - All reduced fat or full cream milks, plain and flavoured, long life milks, powdered milk, evaporated milk, soy beverages (fortified with at least 100mg calcium/100mL)
- Yoghurt - All yoghurts including reduced fat or full cream, plain and flavoured, soy yoghurt (calcium fortified)
- Cheese - All hard cheeses, reduced or full fat for example cheddar, red Leicester, Gloucester, Edam, Gouda Soy cheeses (calcium fortified).
How much should I eat from the milk, yoghurt, cheese and / or alternatives group?
Most people need at least 2-3 serves each day, however, the minimum recommended will vary according to your age, sex and life stage for example, women over 51 years need 4 serves a day as their calcium requirements are high. Follow the links below to find out how many serves you need to eat per day.
Minimum recommended average daily number of serves from each of the five food groups
A serve of milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives* is 500-600kJ which is:
- 1 cup (250ml) fresh, UHT long life, reconstituted powdered milk or buttermilk
- ½ cup (120ml) evaporated milk
- 2 slices (40g) or 4 x 3 x 2cm cube (40g) of hard cheese, such as cheddar
- ½ cup (120g) ricotta cheese
- ¾ cup (200g) yoghurt
- 1 cup (250ml) soy, rice or other cereal drink with at least 100mg of added calcium per 100ml
*Choose mostly reduced fat
The following alternatives contain about the same amount of calcium as a serve of milk, yoghurt or cheese:
- 100g almonds with skin
- 60g sardines, canned in water
- ½ cup (100g) canned pink salmon with bones
- 100g firm tofu (check the label as calcium levels vary)
What can I do with these foods?
Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternative products form part of the diets of nearly all Australians and there are endless ways that they can be consumed at any meal or any time of the day. It can be as simple as a glass of milk or slice of cheese, or combining with other foods to make larger meals such as:
- Breakfast – milk/yoghurt (or alternatives) used on cereal, in porridge, in smoothies; cottage cheese/ricotta cheese on wholegrain toast
- Lunch – sliced cheese/ricotta cheese on wholegrain bread,
- Dinner – grated and grilled cheese on top of main meal, white sauce
- Snacks – tub of yoghurt (or alternative), cold or hot milk drinks including milk based coffees.
- Desserts – Ice cream and dessert style custards are relatively high in kilojoules, fat and added sugars and are considered a discretionary choice that should be eaten only occasionally. However, lower fat, lower sugar milk based desserts including custards, junkets and puddings, can be made at home. Low sugar, low fat yoghurt (with or without fruit) is a great quick and easy dessert that is low in kilojoules.
Non-dairy milk drinks can be substituted for cow’s milk in recipes.
Health benefits of milk, yoghurt, cheese and / or alternatives
Milk, cheese and yoghurt provide calcium in a readily absorbable and convenient form. They also have various health benefits and are a good source of many nutrients, including calcium, protein, iodine, vitamin A, vitamin D, riboflavin, vitamin B12 and zinc. Some people prefer to follow a dairy food-free or milk free diet because of allergies, or intolerances to lactose (the natural sugar in milk). Or because they believe that milk increases mucus. However there is no scientific evidence of any link between dairy products and mucus production. Allergies and intolerance should always be diagnosed by a doctor. Avoiding dairy foods and not making suitable alternative choices such as the ones recommended in this food group can affect your long term health.