Choosing your milk, yoghurt and cheese

Dairy Foods and The Alternatives

Several decades ago the selection of milk was easy, as there was only one choice, full cream dairy milk. As I reflect on my 20+ years as an accredited practicing dietitian I realise that even this choice has become more complicated. Advancing health research and the development of new products to meet our nutritional needs (for calcium and protein in a tasty product that has little or no saturated fat), means that we now have several dairy, rice, soy and nut milks to choose from.

Cheese, yoghurt and milk

Dairy Foods and Saturated Fat

Skim and reduced fat dairy products were developed in response to research associating saturated fats to heart disease, however researchers are now revisiting this link. It appears that not all saturated fats are detrimental to our heart, especially those found in cheese. Scientific research takes a reductionist approach. This means that it breaks food into its individual nutrients and components with the aim of identifying which ones are beneficial and harmful to our health.

Researchers now understand that the nutrition story is not so straightforward. There are many possible interactions between nutrients within the different foods we eat, so looking at one nutrient, one component or one food alone cannot explain health or disease. Your choice of dairy food needs to consider the total nutritional quality of your diet, how many processed foods you eat that are high in saturated fat and sugar, your blood cholesterol level and your family history of heart disease.

Soy Foods

There have also been mixed messages about soy foods, such as milk and yoghurt, for general health, decreasing menopausal symptoms and preventing breast and prostrate cancers. Research is inconclusive about the role of soy foods in our health, but legumes including soy are recommended as part of a nutritious diet. Soy contains phytoestrogens that have a similar structure to our hormones oestrogen and oestradiol.

For some women these phytoestrogens may interfere with their menstrual cycle causing tender breasts or painful periods. You have the most knowledge about your own body and how it responds to your diet and lifestyle. I recommend that any women who experience these symptoms to discuss them with their doctor. Fortified rice and nut milks offer another alternative to dairy.

What is a Serve?

A serve of dairy or alternative foods provides 200 – 270 mg of calcium. This means that soy and rice products have been fortified with at least 100mg calcium per 100ml or 100g.

  • 1 cup (250ml) milk OR
  • 1 cup (250ml) calcium fortified soy or rice milk OR
  • 2 slices (40g) cheese OR
  • 120g ricotta cheese OR
  • 1 small tub (200g) yogurt OR
  • 1 small tub (200g) calcium fortified soy yogurt OR
  • 1cup (200g) custard

Aim for 2 to 3 serves daily. During pregnancy and lactation have 3 serves. For women over 50 years of age include 4 serves a day. You can enjoy a variety of milks, cheeses and yoghurts. In our household we eat dairy, soy and rice milk products for additional variety and flavour.

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