Food For Thought by Jess P - No Bones About It – Dairy and it’s Alternatives

No Bones About It – Dairy and it’s Alternatives

Dairy foods can often get a bad rap, but they’re a delicious and nutritious addition to a well-balanced diet (provided you’re not allergic, of course!). Dairy products (eg. animal milks, cheeses and yogurts) are recommended as part of the Australia diet because they are our single most calcium-rich group of foods and they’re a convenient source of many other nutrients including the B vitamins, vitamin A and vitamin D. Plus, they’re also a rich source of protein which is fantastic for our recovering muscles after training! So here’s a little breakdown of the different types of dairy foods to help you make an informed choice about what you might want to include in your diet.

On a side note, what is calcium? Calcium is the most common mineral found in the body, and 99% of it is found in your bones and teeth! The remaining 1% of calcium is found in your blood where it helps in multiple functions including maintaining normal blood pressure and helping with muscle contractions. Research also suggests that calcium can be protective against diabetes, colon cancer and osteoporosis and may also play a role in maintaining a healthy body weight (particularly if the calcium comes from dairy foods).

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating (AGHE) recommends that women aged 19-50 years old get 2.5 serves of milk, yogurt, cheese or their alternatives daily. This helps us to reach the recommended daily intake of 1000mg of calcium per day, which is particularly important for women as we are more prone to be affected by osteoporosis (weak and brittle bones that are at high risk of breakage), later in life due to changes in our hormones during menopause.

A serving size is made up of:
• 1 cup (250ml) of milk (fresh, long life or reconstituted from powder) or plant-based alternatives (including soy or rice*)
• 2 slices (40g) of hard cheese (eg. cheddar)
• ½ cup (120g) of ricotta cheese
• ¾ cup (200g) of yogurt

*If you’re choosing a plant-based alternative, look for varieties with 100mg added calcium (aka fortification) per 100ml to help reach your daily needs

There’s a bunch of different varieties of milks on the market and this is how they differ;
• Full-fat or whole milks contain the full amount of fat found naturally in milk (~3.5% fat or 3.5g per 100ml). The full fat content gives the milk a rich, creamy taste.
• Reduced-fat contains 2% fat and low-fat contains 1% fat, meaning that they contain about 2g/100ml and 1g/100ml respectively. 1% vs 2% vs 3% may not seem like much, but if you’re drinking a lot of full-fat milk, the fat content can add up. For example, 1 cup of full fat milk contains ~9g of fat, whereas choosing a 2% fat milk (as recommended by the AGHE) will contribute 5g of fat to your daily intake. There are some great tasting reduced and low fat milks available, and it’s pretty difficult to taste the difference from full fat!
• Fat-free (aka non-fat, 99.9% fat free or skim) means there’s less than 1g of fat per 100ml. Compared to the higher fat milks, fat-free milk tends to have a very light taste and can appear a lot more watery.
• Yogurts also have fat-free, reduced fats and full varieties

With the exception of flavoured varieties, cow’s milk will not contain added sugar, but you will see sugar listed on the nutrition information panel. This is because milk naturally contained a carbohydrate (or sugar), called lactose. Unless you’re lactose intolerant, this sugar is naturally broken down by your body for easy digestion. Luckily, there are a range of lactose-free dairy products now readily available for purchase!

Whether a milk is full fat or has a reduced fat content, the amount of protein they contain is pretty similar, at between 3-4g of protein per 100ml. This makes milk a convenient source of protein on the go, especially in smoothies for breakfast or after an intense training session, to help your muscle recover and repair.

• Milk alternatives including soybean, almond, oats and rice. Did you know that plant-based ‘milks’ aren’t actually milks? This is because milk is defined as a nutrient rich liquid that produced by female mammals. Which is why you sometimes see plant-based alternatives labelled as ‘mylk’. Plant-based products tend to contain less fat and protein than animal milk, with the exception of soybean mylks, which contains around 3g fat and protein per 100ml. Almond, rice and oat milks tend to contain less than 2g fat and 1.5g protein per 100ml. If your preference is plant-based milks, look for varieties that are unsweetened (check out the ingredients list) and have at least 100mg calcium per 100ml (on the nutrition information panel) to help meet your calcium requirements.

So what’s best? Ultimately it comes down to your preferences for your diet, whether you include animal products or you prefer plant-based options. Consider how much fat works best for you, you might choose to drink reduced-fat milk but can’t go past the flavour of a full-fat yogurt (yum!). Keeping an eye on portion sizes will help keep you from consuming too much extra energy from the fats in dairy products, while reaping their nutritional benefits!

Want to learn more about nutrition, food and how it can help with your training!? Contact Jess P at, she will be more than happy to chat to your about your nutrition needs :)