Dairy and Alternatives

Foods in this group are important sources of protein and calcium. Protein is required by our bodies in order to grow and repair properly, whilst calcium is essential for healthy bones and teeth. We require both of these nutrients in sufficient quantities throughout our lives in order to remain fit and healthy

What foods are included in this group?

  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Yoghurt
  • Fromage frais
  • Dairy milk alternatives that are unsweetened and fortified with calcium

How much do people need and why?

About one tenth of the food we eat should be from this food group, for most people this means two to three portions per day. As well as being valuable sources of protein and calcium, foods in this group are also good sources of other important nutrients such as vitamins A, D and B12.

How much is a portion?

  • 1 small pot of yogurt
  • 30g cheese (a piece the size of a small matchbox)
  • 200ml milk

Which foods should you choose?

Milk and dairy products are great sources of calcium and protein but also tend to be quite high in saturated fat. You should try to choose lower fat or reduced fat versions of these foods where possible.

But is fat from dairy products really that bad for us?

The official government guidance is to choose milks lower in fat, such as such as skimmed, 1% or semiskimmed; yoghurts lower in fat and sugar and cheeses lower in fat and salt. However, there is a growing view that fats, including saturated fats found in dairy products may not be as harmful for our health as previously thought.

Full fat products may be beneficial as part of a healthy balanced diet as the relatively high protein and fat content of full fat dairy products such as full-fat yogurt along with the low carbohydrate content makes them filling and causes less disruption to our blood sugar level. There is also a school of thought, along with research that shows that full-fat dairy products can be beneficial for weight loss.

Don’t forget to keep an eye on your free sugars intake.

Be aware that the free sugars content of lower or reduced fat dairy products, particularly items such as yogurt can be very high. People who are looking to moderate their carbohydrate intake may prefer to choose dairy products without, or with lower levels of added sugar. This may mean choosing full-fat options for yoghurts.

A word on protein and exercise

Protein plays a vital role in building muscle and healthy connective tissue (for example, ligaments tendons and cartilage) and is therefore a nutrient that receives much attention by athletes, at both a recreational and elite level. Research over the last 20 years shows that athletes do have a slightly higher requirement for protein than sedentary individuals. However, don’t go reaching for the protein powder just yet, as the majority of athletes (and non-athletes) eat more protein than is required from their diet meaning there is little justification for special high protein supplements.