Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Dairy foods

4-minute read

Dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yoghurt are rich in many essential vitamins and minerals — calcium, in particular. As part of a balanced diet, dairy contributes to strong bones and helps you stay healthy. If you're not able to, or choose not to, consume dairy, you can get calcium from other foods and, if necessary, from a supplement.

What are dairy foods?

Most dairy foods come from cow's milk, although some are made from the milk of sheep, goats and other animals. Milk, cheese and yoghurt are popular and accessible dairy foods, and are very good sources of many nutrients.

Dairy foods vary in fat content. For example, milk comes in 'full fat' (3.5% fat), 'low fat' (less than 1.5% fat) and 'skim' (less than 0.15% fat).

Why you need dairy

Dairy foods provide many nutrients, including:

Calcium is essential both for children and adults, as it helps to grow strong bones.

Dairy foods can also help reduce blood pressure, and the risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers.

How to get more dairy in your diet

The recommended daily number of serves of milk, yoghurt and cheese (or alternatives) for a healthy diet will depend on a person’s age and sex. One serve of dairy is equivalent to:

  • 1 cup (250ml) of milk
  • ¾ cup (200g) of yoghurt
  • 2 slices (40g) of hard cheese
  • ½ cup (120g) of ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup calcium-enriched soy, rice or other cereal milk (with at least 100mg calcium per 100ml)

Here are the recommended daily number of serves of milk, yoghurt and cheese (or alternatives) for a healthy diet.


  • Women aged over 50 — 4 serves
  • Pregnant women — 3 ½
  • Breastfeeding women — 4
  • Men aged over 70 — 3½ serves
  • All other adults — 2 ½ serves

Children and adolescents

  • Toddlers aged 1-2 years — 1-1½
  • Girls aged 2-8 — 1-1½
  • Girls aged 9-11 — 3
  • Boys aged 2-3 — 1½
  • Boys aged 4-8 — 2
  • Boys aged 9-11 — 2½
  • All teenagers — 3½

Babies up to 12 months should drink breast milk or formula, not milk from cows (or other animals). Dairy alternatives are not suitable as milk substitutes for children under 2 years of age.

Here are some tips for adding more dairy to your diet:

  • Include cheese in sandwiches or wraps.
  • Drink milk- or yoghurt-based smoothies.
  • Sprinkle cheese on pasta.
  • Dollop natural yoghurt on a jacket potato.
  • Enjoy a warm glass of low-fat milk after dinner.

Alternatives to dairy

Some people avoid dairy because they:

If you don't consume dairy, it's important to get the nutrition you need, especially calcium, from other sources. This is particularly important for children, who need plenty of calcium for their bones to grow properly.

It's also a good idea to see a health professional, such as a dietitian or nutritionist, for advice and to find out whether you should take a calcium supplement.

Non-dairy sources of calcium include:

  • calcium-enriched soy, rice and oat drinks (1 cup equals 1 serve of dairy)
  • almonds (100g equals 1 serve)
  • firm tofu (100g equals 1 serve, although it can vary between brands)
  • tinned sardines (60g equals 1 serve) and salmon with bones (100g equals 1 serve)
  • green vegetables, such as bok choy, kale and broccoli
  • calcium-fortified breakfast cereal, bread or juice

Note that the calcium in green vegetables is not as easily absorbed by your body as the calcium in dairy.

Dairy and food safety

Pasteurisation is the process that kills potentially harmful bacteria found in raw milk and raw milk products. Pregnant women, the elderly and people with an impaired immune system should not eat unpasteurised dairy products (or soft cheeses, such as brie and ricotta), which are more likely to contain bacteria, including Listeria.

You should also avoid giving babies and toddlers unpasteurised milk.

Dairy food should be handled and stored following food safety guidelines. For example, keep it in your fridge at or below 5°C. Avoid consuming dairy foods after their 'use by' date — even if they smell or look OK.

For more information

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2019

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Asthma and dairy foods -

This special feature explores the asthma and dairy foods debate. Find out if milk is safe for your child with asthma.

Read more on myDr website

Dairy and heart health | The Heart Foundation

Is milk bad for your heart? Not all dairy products are equal. Discover different types of dairy foods and the impact they could have on your heart health.

Read more on Heart Foundation website

Why do we need calcium? » Dietitians Australia

Nourishing Nutrients Why do we need calcium? Why do we need calcium? Calcium is super important for strong bones and healthy teeth

Read more on Dietitians Association of Australia website

Calcium - Better Health Channel

If you don't have enough calcium in your diet, your bones will eventually become weak and brittle.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Milk and Milk Products (Dairy Products) | myVMC

Children and adolescents should be encouraged to consume milk products because this is the period of their lives in which they are building their peak bone mass and developing lifelong habits. This article highlights the benefits of milk and milk products, as well as common misconceptions.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Understanding lactose intolerance » Dietitians Australia

Medical Understanding lactose intolerance Understanding lactose intolerance Lactose intolerance is a set of symptoms caused by the body’s inability to digest lactose properly

Read more on Dietitians Association of Australia website

Which type of milk should I drink? » Dietitians Australia

Food and Food Products Which type of milk should I drink? Which type of milk should I drink? Regular cows’ milk is the most common type of milk available in the supermarket

Read more on Dietitians Association of Australia website

5 Signs you may be lactose intolerant -

Lactose intolerance is due to not having enough of the enzyme lactase to digest the sugars, such as lactose, in milk. Find out if you have symptoms or signs.

Read more on myDr website

Lactose intolerance - Better Health Channel

Symptoms of lactose intolerance include bloating, gas, abdominal pain and diarrhoea.

Read more on Better Health Channel website


Almost 99% of the body’s calcium is found in the bones. Calcium combines with other minerals to form the hard crystals that give your bones their strength and structure. A small amount of calcium is dissolved in the blood; this calcium is essential for the healthy functioning of the heart, muscles, blood and nerves.

Read more on Osteoporosis Australia website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo