Serves of Dairy

Eating 3 serves of dairy every day as part of a healthy, balanced diet will provide most people with their daily calcium requirements. Calcium is one of the 10 essential nutrients naturally found in significant quantities in dairy foods. One serve of dairy is:

  • 1 glass (250mL) of milk
  • 1 tub (200g) of yogurt
  • 2 slices (40g) of cheese
Dairy - A rich source of calcium
Dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yogurt are a rich source of calcium, and are the major source in the Australian diet, providing around 60% of the calcium we eat. The Dietary Guidelines for Australians specifically recommend that milk, yogurt or cheese be included in our daily diet because of their readily available dietary calcium.
Calcium is a mineral that forms part of bones and teeth, where it provides structure and strength. Calcium is also involved in helping muscles and nerves to work properly, helping blood to clot, and regulating enzyme activity.
Calcium is probably best known for the essential role it plays in building and maintaining strong healthy bones. Our childhood and adolescent years are when our bones are growing, developing and strengthening the most. We achieve ‘peak bone mass’ (when our bones are at their strongest) in our early twenties. Consuming enough calcium during this time is essential to help maximise our bone density and reduce the chance of osteoporosis later in life.
Osteoporosis is a condition where the bones have lost calcium, become fragile and fracture more easily. It is a major cause of disability in Australia, affecting one in two women and one in three men over the age of 60.
Consuming enough calcium every day is not only important in childhood and adolescence. From early adulthood, bones gradually lose mineral and strength. Eating enough calcium-containing foods throughout adulthood may help slow bone mineral loss and therefore reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
Alternative sources of calcium
Foods such as canned fish eaten with the bones, green leafy vegetables, nuts such as almonds, cereals and legumes also contribute calcium to the diet, but in much smaller amounts than dairy foods. Few foods provide as much absorbable calcium per serve as dairy foods.
A number of drinks such as soy or rice drink are marketed as ‘milk substitutes’. Unlike cow’s milk, these drinks are not naturally high in calcium, but have calcium added. There is evidence to suggest that, in many cases, this added calcium may not be absorbed by the body as well as the calcium that is present in cow’s milk. These drinks may also be low in many of the other important nutrients found naturally in milk.
Calcium supplements are often recommended to boost calcium intake, particularly for individuals who cannot meet their recommended daily calcium intake through foods. Take care when using supplements to ensure that other important nutrients found in food groups such as dairy are not left out of your diet.
Dairy’s package of nutrients
Dairy foods are one of the five core food groups recommended for a healthy balanced diet. While dairy foods are well known for their calcium content, they also contain significant amounts of over nine other essential nutrients, such as:
  • Vitamins A and B12, riboflavin,
  • Phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, zinc
  • Protein and carbohydrate 
These nutrients are important for healthy blood, nervous and immune systems, eyesight, muscle and nerve function, healthy skin, energy levels, and growth and repair in all parts of your body.
Research has shown that children and adults who regularly consume dairy foods have better quality diets – they are more likely to have an adequate intake of many of the essential nutrients than those who don’t eat dairy foods or only consume them rarely.
Beyond bones – some of dairy’s other health benefits
Dairy foods and their unique package of nutrients don’t just contribute to strong healthy bones. They may also play a role in reducing the risk of other conditions.
The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet – a low fat, low salt diet high in fruit and vegetables and including 3 serves of low fat dairy products – has been shown to be helpful in lowering blood pressure. It has also been shown to lower other risk factors for heart disease such as high blood cholesterol levels.
Many people reduce their milk and dairy intake when they are dieting. Research suggests that including three serves of dairy foods as part of a calorie-restricted, weight reducing diet may be helpful in weight management.
Choosing from the wide variety of reduced and low fat dairy foods available may help you maintain a calorie restricted diet. Dairy foods also have a low glycaemic index (GI), which is important for managing blood sugar levels in diabetes.
There is good evidence that milk, cheese and yogurt can play a role in protecting teeth against tooth decay and may reduce the risk of certain cancers such as colon cancer.
So no matter what your age, there are now even more reasons to consume the goodness of dairy every day. 
Getting your 3 serves
Getting 3 serves of dairy every day is easy, and is something the whole family can get involved in. Choose from the wide variety of regular fat, reduced fat and low fat dairy foods to suit your diet and lifestyle.
Here are some quick, simple ideas:
  • For a calcium boost, top your cereal and milk with fruit flavoured yogurt.
  • Every time you have pasta, try to top it off with shaved or grated parmesan or mozzarella cheese.
  • Include cheese in your sandwiches.
  • Enjoy a tasty cheese and fruit platter at the end of a meal.
  • Snuggle up with a warm glass of milk before bed.
  • For an energizing fruit smoothie, throw together some fruit, yogurt and milk.

Nutrition Australia would like to acknowledge Dairy Australia as the original author of this resource.

Published: December 2008

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