Dairy foods

There is probable evidence linking the consumption of dairy foods to a reduced risk of bowel cancer. Calcium supplements may also reduce the risk of bowel cancer.

"Dairy foods" include milk from cows, goats and sheep and cheese and yoghurt made from those milks.  Dairy products are an excellent source of calcium and protein as well a source of vitamin A, riboflavin, vitamin B12 and zinc.

Calcium is important for strong bones and teeth and proper muscle and heart function. Getting enough calcium throughout life and doing weight-bearing exercise can help prevent osteoporosis.The reduced risk of bowel cancer found with consuming dairy products has been largely attributed to their high calcium content.

Adults  need 2½ serves of dairy foods and alternatives daily. Women 50+ need 4 serves and men 70+ need 3½ serves.

A serve of dairy and alternatives is:

  • 1 cup milk (250mL) - fresh, UHT long life, reconstituted powdered milk
  • ½ cup evaporated milk (120mL)
  • 2 slices hard cheese (40g) such as cheddar
  • ½ cup ricotta cheese (120g)
  • ¾ cup yoghurt (200g)
  • 1 cup plant milk (250mL) with at least 100mg of added calcium per 100mL - soy, rice, almond, oat

Tips to increase your calcium intake:

  • Add milk to soup to give it a creamy texture.
  • Make a smoothie with yoghurt, milk and your favourite fruit.
  • Include a small amount of hard cheese in your salad.
  • Snack on calcium-rich nuts like Brazil nuts or almonds.
  • Add tofu to a stir fry
  • Add reduced fat yoghurt to a fruit salad.

People with lactose intolerance

Lactose is a type of sugar found naturally in milk from cows, goats and sheep. For lactose to be digested, a gut enzyme called lactase is needed. People with lactose intolerance don't produce enough lactase and this means they can't digest lactose properly. The symptoms of lactose intolerance include bloating, abdominal discomfort and flatulence after consuming large amount of milk and milk products.

Lactose-intolerant adults and children often avoid milk and milk products due to this, but up to 250ml of milk may be tolerated if broken up throughout the day and consumed with other foods. Cheese contains little lactose and the lactose in yoghurt is partially broken down by bacteria that thicken the yoghurt, so are often well tolerated. Lactose-free dairy products and calcium-fortified beverages such as soy, almond, rice and oat milks are also available.

Vegetarian or vegan diets

People following vegetarian and vegan diets may have higher calcium needs because some plant sources of calcium also contain compounds that make it hard for the body to absorb that calcium. Those who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet and avoid milk products should consume alternative calcium-fortified products and seek advice from a health professional about whether they need to take supplements.