milk yoghurt cheese dairy animal food
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Cow's milk is a rich source of protein, calcium, riboflavin and vitamin B12. Diets high in calcium can help improve bone density and reduce risk of osteoporosis...

Calcium is more bioavailable from milk, yoghurt and cheese, compared with foods high in oxalates or phytates (including beans, seeds, leafy greens and nuts). However, daily calcium requirements can be met from plant-based sources, it just requires more planning.


National recommendations

The Australian Dietary Guidelines (released in 2013) recommend people try to choose reduced fat milk, yoghurt and cheese options. The National Heart Foundation of Australia released a review in 2019, stating that unless you are at risk of heart disease (e.g. have high cholesterol or a family history of heart disease) or have type 2 diabetes, then full-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese are ok in the context of a healthy diet


There is some research to suggest that the intake of milk, yoghurt and cheese can help reduce high blood pressure. However, if your overall diet is high in saturated fat (from many foods including full fat milk, yoghurt and cheese) then replacing foods high in saturated fat with foods high in mono and polyunsaturated fats (such as nuts, seeds, oils and avocados) can improve cardiovascular health biomarkers.


Environmental impacts

Similarly to cattle raised for beef, the farming of cattle used for the production of dairy also significantly impacts climate change. Recent research indicates that about 3% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions come from onsite dairy farm emissions, and most of these are also from the methane produced during the digestion of grass (via enteric fermentation in ruminant species). Other sources of greenhouse gas emissions from this industry include nitrous oxide from manure and energy use on farms or indirect losses from wet soils.


Importantly, the processing to make the dairy foods we eat (such as milking the cows, making the cheese and yoghurt) also produces significant amounts of greenhouse gases, so it’s not just the emissions form the farm that we need to consider. Combine these environmental impacts with the food miles accumulated from importing food (such as camembert from France), you’ve found yourself an exceptionally high greenhouse gas producing food.


Given the significant contribution of dairy foods to greenhouse gas emissions, the committee of leading international scientific experts (the EAT-Lancet Commission) recommended a reduction of dairy foods (milk, yoghurt and cheese) to about 250 grams per day, which is around 1 serve of milk. However, in order to ensure you’re still meeting your nutrient needs you need to be particularly mindful of your calcium intake. See more information on calcium and how to meet your body’s needs on a plant-based diet, see here.


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