The Dairy Dilemma

By Amber Drake, Accredited Practising Dietitian, Dairy Australia

The dairy cabinet in the supermarket can seem overwhelming with so many products to choose from but this also means there’s plenty of choice to suit all taste buds and preferences.

Below we’ll bust some common myths about dairy foods to help make your shopping decisions easier.

Children and dairy foods
MYTH: Only infants and toddlers need dairy foods.
BUSTED: Children need more calcium and dairy foods as they get older, not less.
Infants and toddlers need about half the calcium that primary school children and teenagers do. Older children require this extra calcium to meet the needs of their growing bones. So, from the age of four, children need at least 3 serves of dairy every day to help them get the calcium they need for growth and development. But only 1 out of 5 Australian primary school children has their 3 serves of dairy every day. A serve of dairy is equal to one glass of milk (250mL), two slices of cheese (40g), or one small tub of yogurt (200g).

Reduced-fat dairy foods
MYTH: Reduced-fat dairy foods are suitable for children of all ages.
BUSTED: Low-fat diets are not recommended for children under two years of age.
Infants and toddlers grow very rapidly and need the fat supplied in regular-fat milk, cheese and yogurt to provide the energy they need for growth and development. After the age of two however reduced-fat dairy foods are suitable for children.

Dairy foods and weight
MYTH: Dairy foods are fattening.
BUSTED: There is no evidence to support the theory that dairy foods are fattening.
Latest research shows the consumption of dairy foods including milk, cheese and yogurt has no harmful effect on weight, both in children and adults. , , Interestingly reduced-fat dairy foods are no more beneficial than regular-fat dairy foods for maintaining a healthy weight or reducing the risk of diseases later in life. It is more important people are having enough dairy foods rather than focusing on the type. This is especially important for children given childhood and adolescence is the main time for building strong bones for life and most are not consuming enough dairy foods every day to meet their calcium needs. Instead children are filling up on high energy, low nutrient foods such as hot chips, cakes and muffins, potato chips, pies and chocolate.

Vegies versus dairy foods
MYTH: Calcium from vegetables can replace calcium from milk.
BUSTED: While vegetables are packed with other nutrients, research shows that it is difficult to rely on plant foods to meet daily calcium needs.
Dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yogurt provide the majority of calcium in the Australian diet. They also provide nine other essential nutrients for good health. For the body to absorb the same amount of calcium as one serve of dairy, you would need to eat 32 Brussels sprouts, 21 cups of raw chopped spinach, 11 cups of diced sweet potato, six cups of shredded green cabbage or five cups of cooked broccoli. Dairy foods in fact make a great addition to vegetables, improving the flavour and increasing the likelihood children will eat them!

Lactose intolerance
MYTH: Children and adults who have difficulty digesting lactose should avoid dairy foods.
BUSTED: Dairy foods don’t need to be cut out of the diet if people have difficulty digesting the lactose (milk sugar) in milk.
Research has shown most people who have difficulty digesting lactose can drink up to two glasses of milk a day without symptoms of intolerance if they are consumed at separate meal times. Most cheeses contain virtually no lactose and yogurt contains good bacteria that can actually help to digest lactose. Low lactose and lactose-free milks are also available for those who are particularly sensitive.

Flavoured milks and yogurts
MYTH: Flavoured milks and yogurts are bad for children.
BUSTED: Flavoured milks and yogurts contain the same essential nutrients as plain varieties.
If you can’t get your child to have plain milk or yogurt, flavoured varieties contain the same 10 essential nutrients found naturally in dairy foods with less added sugars than you think. The majority of sugars in flavoured milks and yogurts come naturally from lactose (milk sugar) or added fruit. Flavoured milk typically contains the same amount of total sugars as unsweetened orange juice. Studies have shown that children who drink flavoured milk meet more of their nutrient requirements without negatively affecting weight. , , Another great option is to add fresh fruit to plain milk or yogurt and make refreshing fruit smoothies.

MYTH: Permeate is not a natural part of milk.
BUSTED: There is nothing in fresh milk that is not milk.
Permeate is the technical term for a collection of natural milk components that includes lactose (milk sugar), vitamins and minerals. These components are separated by ultra-filtration and are valuable parts of fresh milk. The addition of milk permeate to milk is one way of standardising the components in milk to ensure consumers receive the same quality product every time they purchase milk.

Recommended information and resources
For more information on dairy foods, children’s nutrition and easy and tasty recipes visit:

For more comprehensive nutrition advice please visit an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD). Find an APD at:

[1] Suarez FL et al. (1997) American Journal Clinical Nutrition. 65: 1502-6.

[1] Noel SE et al. (2012) European Journal of Clinical Nutrition {in press}

[1] Johnson R et al. (2002) Journal of the American Dietetics Association. 102, 853-6.

[1] Fisher Jo et al. (2004) American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 79(4); 698-706

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