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The importance of milk and dairy products as part of a healthy balanced diet

The principles of a healthy balanced diet:

Milk and dairy products contain many nutrients and provide a quick and easy way of supplying these nutrients to the diet within relatively few calories.

Milk, cheese and yogurt all provide the following beneficial nutrients in varying quantities.

  • Calcium - for healthy bones and teeth
  • Phosphorous - for energy release
  • Magnesium - for muscle function
  • Protein - for growth and repair
  • Vitamin B12 - for production of healthy cells
  • Vitamin A - for good eyesight and immune function
  • Zinc - for immune function
  • Riboflavin - for healthy skin
  • Folate - for production of healthy cells
  • Vitamin C - for formation of healthy connective tissues.
  • Iodine - for regulation of the body's rate of metabolism (how quickly the body burns energy and the rate of growth

1 glass of milk alone can make a contribution to the daily recommended intake of many important nutrients for all age groups.

Contribution of 1 glass of milk to daily nutrient requirements

Nutrient Amount present in a glass (200ml) semi skimmed milk Contribution to recommended daily amount for females 11-18 years (%) Contribution to recommended daily amount for males 11-18 years (%)
Protein (g) 7.2 13 16
Calcium (mg) 247 25 31
Phosphorus (mg) 194 25 31
Magnesium (mg) 23 8 8
Sodium (mg) 89 6 6
Potassium (mg) 321 9 9
Chloride (mg) 179 7 7
Iron (mg) 0.04 0.4 0.3
Zinc (mg) 0.8 8 11
Copper (mg) Trace - -
Selenium (μg) 2 3 3
Iodine (μg) 62 44 44
Vitamin A (μg) 39 6 7
Thiamin (mg) 0 0 0
Riboflavin (mg) 0.5 38 45
Niacin (mg) 0.2 1 1.4
Vitamin B6 (mg) 0.12 8 10
Vitamin B12 (μg) 1.9 127 127
Folate (μg) 19 10 10
Vitamin C (mg) 4 10 10
Vitamin D (μg) Trace - -

It is highly recommended to consume milk and dairy foods as part of a healthy balanced diet.

A portion of dairy may be a  200ml glass of milk, 150g or a pot of yogurt and 30g or a matchbox sized piece of hard cheese. Portions sizes will vary for different age groups. The following table gives the portion sizes to meet  the daily recommended calcium requirements for different age groups.

Portion sizes and contribution to calcium intake

Age/Sex RNI* for calcium (mg/d) Dairy portion sizes
0-12months 525 No cows' milk as a drink for babies under 12 months. Breastfeeding is best, followed by cows’ milk formula. Soya-based formula should be used only under medical advice. Cheese and yogurt can be given from 6 months.
1-3years 350 100ml whole/semi-skimmed milk**, 80g yogurt, 15g cheese. These portion sizes in total provide approximately 360mg calcium.
4-6years 450 130ml semi-skimmed milk, 100g yogurt, 20g cheese. These portion sizes in total provide approximately 465mg of calcium.
7-10years 550 150ml semi-skimmed milk, 125g yogurt, 25g cheese. These portion sizes in total provide approximately 570mg of calcium.
11-18years, male 1000 250ml semi-skimmed milk, 200g pot of yogurt, 45g of low fat cheese. These portion sizes in total provide approximately 1002mg of calcium.
11-18years, female 800 200ml semi-skimmed milk, 200g pot of yogurt, 30g of low fat cheese (small matchbox size). These portion sizes in total provide approximately 842mg of calcium.
19-50 years 700 200ml semi-skimmed milk, 150g pot of low-fat yogurt, 30g of cheese (small matchbox size). These portion sizes in total provide approximately 710mg of calcium.
50+ years 700 200ml semi-skimmed milk, 150g pot of low-fat yogurt, 30g of cheese (small matchbox size). These portion sizes in total provide approximately 710mg of calcium.
Pregnancy 700 200ml semi-skimmed milk, 150g pot of low-fat yogurt, 30g of cheese (small matchbox size). These portion sizes in total provide approximately 710mg of calcium.
Lactation RNI for age group plus another 550mg increment i.e. if lactating teenager then 800+550mg/d, if lactating adult then 700+550mg/d To achieve the RNI for calcium during lactation, teenage or adult mums will need to consume more than the portion sizes given above.

* RNI – reference nutrient intake. The amount estimated to be sufficient for 97% of a specified population group.

** Semi-skimmed milk may be introduced to children from the age of two if they are good eaters otherwise whole milk may continue to be given.

Consumption fo dairy has been associated with numerous health benefits including the following.

Bone Health

Dairy products provide calcium, which is essential for bone growth and development. Bone growth is at its highest during childhood and the teenage years and therefore it is important that teenagers consume dairy products.

Optimising bone mass in this age group can help to reduce the risk of osteoporosis (a debilitating, brittle bone disorder) in later life -see section on dairy and bones.

Teeth

Dairy products contain calcium and other tooth friendly nutrients, which help teeth grow and keep them healthy -see section on dairy and teeth.

It is the only drink -excluding water which is recommended by dentists to be safe to consume between meals.

Obesity

Contrary to popular belief, research has shown that people who consume milk and dairy foods are likely to be slimmer than those who do not.

Milk is also not a high fat product. Whole milk contains 4% fat, semi-skimmed milk contains 1.7% fat, 1% fat milk contains 1% fat and skimmed milk contains 0.3% fat.

Studies have also found that consuming milk and dairy as part of a calorie controlled diet can help us to lose weight -especially from the abdomen, where fat deposits are associated with the greatest health risks -for more information see section on obesity.

Blood Pressure

Dairy helps reduce blood pressure. A diet containing fruit and vegetables, low-fat dairy products and low salt helps reduce blood pressure (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension: DASH diet).

The potassium, magnesium and calcium found in dairy products are all linked to healthy blood pressure -for more information see section on blood pressure.

Cancer

Studies have discovered that diets containing milk and dairy products may significantly reduce the risk of certain cancers.

A study in 40,000 Norwegian women discovered that those who drank milk as children and continued to do so throughout adulthood has a significantly lower chance of developing breast cancer-for more information see section on cancer.

Cardiovascular disease

Consumption of milk and dairy has also been associated with a reduced risk of suffering a heart attack-for more information see section on cardiovascular disease.

Type 2 diabetes

Consumption of low fat dairy products has been linked to a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

In fact studies have found that each extra portion of low fat dairy consumed each day is associated with increasingly lower risk!

For more information see section on diabetes.

Hydration

Regular fluid intake throughout the day is essential to be well hydrated. Dietetic experts recommend drinking 6-8 glasses of fluid per day. As milk contains a high percentage of water, it is a useful vehicle for rehydration.

Eating habits

People who consume dairy products have better intake of nutrients than people who do not consume dairy products. Introducing dairy products at an early age helps establish good eating habits for later in life.

The principles of a healthy balanced diet:
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