Dairy and alternatives in your diet (2023)

Milk and dairy products, such as cheese and yoghurt, are great sources of protein and calcium. They can form part of a healthy, balanced diet.

Unsweetened calcium-fortified dairy alternatives like soya milks, soya yoghurts and soya cheeses also count as part of this food group. These can make good alternatives to dairy products.

To make healthier choices, go for lower fat and lower sugar options.

Healthy dairy choices

The total fat content of dairy products can vary a lot. To make healthier choices, look at the nutrition information on the label to check the amount of fat, including saturated fat, salt and sugar, in the dairy products you're choosing.

Much of the fat in milk and dairy foods is saturated fat. For older children and adults, eating too much fat can contribute to excess energy intakes, leading to becoming overweight.

A diet high in saturated fat can also lead to raised levels of cholesterol in the blood, and this can put you at increased risk of having a heart attack or stroke.


The fat in milk provides calories for young children, and also contains essential vitamins.

But for older children and adults, it's a good idea to go for lower-fat milks because having too much fat in your diet can result in you becoming overweight.

If you're trying to cut down on fat, try swapping to 1% fat or skimmed milk, as these still contain the important nutritional benefits of milk, but are lower in fat.


Cheese can form part of a healthy, balanced diet, but it's good to keep track of how much you eat and how often as it can be high in saturated fat and salt.

Most cheeses, including brie, stilton, cheddar, lancashire and double gloucester, contain between 20g and 40g of fat per 100g.

Foods that contain more than 17.5g of fat per 100g are considered high in fat.

Some cheeses can also be high in salt. More than 1.5g salt per 100g is considered high. Eating too much salt can contribute to high blood pressure.

Try choosing reduced-fat hard cheeses, which usually have between 10g and 16g of fat per 100g.

Some cheeses are even lower in fat (3g of fat per 100g or less), including reduced-fat cottage cheese and quark.

If you're using cheese to flavour a dish or a sauce, you could try using a cheese that has a stronger flavour, such as mature cheddar or blue cheese, because then you'll need less.

(Video) Living with a dairy-free diet

But remember, it's recommended that "at risk" groups avoid certain cheeses, such as:

  • infants and young children
  • people over 65 years of age
  • pregnant women
  • those who have a long-term medical condition or weakened immune system

These cheeses include:

  • mould-ripened soft cheeses like brie or camembert
  • ripened goats' milk cheese like chèvre
  • soft blue-veined cheese, such as roquefort

These cheeses may carry bacteria called listeria.

But these cheeses can be used as part of a cooked recipe as listeria is killed by cooking. Baked brie, for example, is a safer option.

Other dairy foods

Butter is high in fat and saturated fat. It can often be high in salt too, so try to eat it less often and in small amounts.

Choosing lower-fat spreads instead of butter is a good way to reduce your fat intake.

Cream is also high in fat, so use this less often and in small amounts too. You can use lower-fat plain yoghurt and fromage frais instead of cream.

Or you could opt for reduced-fat soured cream or reduced-fat crème fraîche in recipes.

But remember, these foods can also contain a lot of saturated fat.

When eating yoghurts or fromage frais, choose lower-fat varieties, but look at the label to check that they're not high in added sugar.

Plain lower-fat yoghurts are a good choice as they usually do not contain added sugars.

Look at the Eatwell Guide for more information on healthier dairy choices.

Dairy intake for pregnant women

Dairy foods are good sources of calcium, which is important in pregnancy because it helps your unborn baby's developing bones form properly.

But there are some cheeses and other dairy products that you should avoid during pregnancy, as they may make you ill or harm your baby.

Make sure you know the important facts about which foods you should avoid or take precautions with when you're pregnant.

Learn more about the foods you should avoid if you're pregnant

During pregnancy, only drink pasteurised or ultra-heat treated (UHT) milks. These milks have been heat-treated to kill bacteria and prevent food poisoning.


Cows' milk that's sold in shops is pasteurised, but you can still find unpasteurised or "raw" milk for sale from some farms and farmers' markets. Check the label if you're unsure.

Dairy intake for babies and children under5

Milk in your child's diet

Milk and dairy products are an important part of a young child's diet.

They're a good source of energy and protein, and contain a wide range of vitamins and minerals, including calcium. These will help youngchildren build bones and keep teeth healthy.

Giving your baby breast milk only(exclusive breastfeeding) is recommended for around the first6 months of your baby's life.

Find out more about the benefits of breastfeeding

If you choose not to, or are unable tobreastfeed, the only alternative isinfantformula.

Find out moreabout the different types of infant formula

Cows' milk should not be given as a drink until a baby is 1 year old. This is because it does not contain the balance of nutrients babies need.

But babies who are around 6 months old can eat foods that use full-fat cows' milk as an ingredient, such as cheese sauce and custard.

Babies under1 year old should not be given condensed, evaporated ordried milk, or any other drinks referred to as "milk", such as rice, oat or almond drinks.

Between the ages of 1 and 2 years, children shouldbe givenwhole milk and dairy products. This is because they may not get the calories or essential vitamins they need from lower fat alternatives.

After the age of 2, children can gradually move to semi-skimmed milk as adrink, as long as they're eating a varied and balanced diet and growing well.

Do not giveskimmedor1% fat milk as a drink to childrenunder5 years old.It does not contain enough calories and other important nutrientsfor young children.

Children between the ages of1 and3 need to havearound 350mg of calcium a day. About 300ml of milk (just over half a pint) would provide this.

See the British Dietetic Association webpage on calcium for more information.

Goats' and sheep's milk in your child's diet

Like cows' milk,goats' milk and sheep's milkare not suitable as drinks for babies under 1 year old because they do not contain the right balance of nutrients.

Once a baby is1 year old,they can drink full-fat goats' milk and sheep's milk as long as the milks are pasteurised.

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They can be given to babies from the age of 6 months in cooked foods such as cheese sauce and custard.

Cheese in your child's diet

Cheese can form part of a healthy, balanced diet for babies and young children, and provides calcium, protein and vitamins like vitamin A.

Babies can eat pasteurised full-fat cheese from 6 months old. This includes hard cheeses such as mild cheddar cheese, cottage cheese and cream cheese.

Full-fat cheeses and dairy products are recommended up to the age of 2, as young children need fat and energy to help them grow.

Babies and young children should not eat:

  • mould-ripened soft cheeses, such as brie or camembert
  • ripened goats' milk cheese like chèvre
  • soft blue-veined cheese like roquefort

These cheeses may carry bacteria called listeria.

You can check labels on cheeses to make sure they're made from pasteurised milk.

But these cheeses can be used as part of a cooked recipe as listeria is killed by cooking. Baked brie, for example, is a safer option.

What is pasteurisation?

Pasteurisation is a heat treatment process to kill bacteria and prevent food poisoning. Most milk and cream is pasteurised.

If milk is unpasteurised, it's often called "raw" milk. This must carry a warning saying it has not been pasteurised and may contain harmful bacteria (which could cause food poisoning).

You can sometimes buy unpasteurised milk and cream from farms and farmers' markets.

If you choose unpasteurised milk or cream, make sure they're kept properly refrigerated because they go off quickly.

Follow any instructions provided with the milk and do not use the milk past its use-by date.

Some other dairy products are made with unpasteurised milk, including some cheeses.

For example, some makers of camembert, brie and goats' cheese may use unpasteurised milk, so check the label.

Children, people who are unwell, pregnant women and older people are particularly vulnerable to food poisoning.

They should not have unpasteurised milk or cream and some dairy products made with unpasteurised milk.

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Milk allergy and lactose intolerance

Milk and dairy foods are good sources of nutrients, so do not cut them out of your or your child's diet without first speaking to a GP or dietitian.

There are2 conditions that cause a reaction to milk.

Lactose intolerance

Lactose intolerance is a common digestive problem where the body is unable to digest lactose,a type of sugar mainly found in milk and dairy products.

Lactose intolerance can cause symptoms such as bloating and diarrhoea. It does not cause severe reactions.

Cows' milk allergy

Cows' milk allergy (CMA) is 1 of the most common childhood food allergies.

CMA typically develops when cows' milk is first introduced into your baby's diet either in formula or when your baby starts eating solids.

More rarely, it can affect babies who are exclusively breastfed because cows' milk from the mother's diet passes to the baby through breast milk.

If you think you or your baby have a milk allergy or intolerance, make an appointment to talk to a GP or another health professional.

Find out more about cows' milk allergy

Dairy alternatives and substitutes

Some people need to avoid dairy products and cows' milk because their bodies cannot digest lactose (lactose intolerance) or they have an allergy to cows' milk protein.

There are a number of lactose-free dairy products available to buy that are suitable for people with lactose intolerance.

These contain the same vitamins and minerals as standard dairy products, but they also have an added enzyme called lactase, which helps digest any lactose so the products do not trigger any symptoms.

Some people also choose not to have dairy products for other reasons – for example, because they follow a vegan diet.

There are a number of alternative foods and drinks available in supermarkets to replace milk and dairy products, such as:

  • soya milks, yoghurts and some cheeses
  • rice, oat, almond, hazelnut, coconut, quinoa and potato milks
  • foods that carry the "dairy-free" or "suitable for vegans" signs

Remember that milk and dairy foods are good sources of important nutrients, so do not cut them out of your or your child's diet without first speaking to a GP or dietitian.

If you're not able to, or choose not to, eat dairy products, you may not be getting enough calcium in your diet.

Find out more about how you can increase your calcium intake

(Video) Guide to Going Dairy Free on a Ketogenic Diet


Why do we need dairy and alternatives in our diet? ›

Dairy products (and dairy alternatives) are packed with calcium, protein and lots of other essential nutrients. Calcium is vital for healthy teeth and bones. It is also important for your muscles, heart and to help your body form blood clots.

What does dairy and alternatives do for your body? ›

Milk and dairy products, such as cheese and yoghurt, are great sources of protein and calcium. They can form part of a healthy, balanced diet. Unsweetened calcium-fortified dairy alternatives like soya milks, soya yoghurts and soya cheeses also count as part of this food group.

What are dairy and alternatives? ›

  • Milk such as skimmed, semi-skimmed, whole.
  • Cheese such as cheddar, parmesan, paneer.
  • Yogurt and fromage frais.
  • Drinks such as some smoothies, kefir and lassi.
  • Cream cheese and quark.
  • Dairy alternatives made from soya, nut, oat, rice, quinoa, coconut and pea such.

What are the best dairy alternatives? ›

Almond, soy, rice, and coconut “milk” are popular plant-based milk alternatives. They're becoming even more available in stores across the United States. There are other cow's milk alternatives like goat milk or oat milk that may be another good choice for some people.

What are 5 benefits of having dairy in your diet? ›

Together, the nutrients in milk and dairy help to:

Keep muscles, bones, nerves, teeth, skin and vision healthy. Release energy from foods and reduce tiredness and fatigue. Maintain healthy blood pressure. Support normal growth and brain development.

Which dairy alternative is healthiest? ›

Here are the 7 healthiest milk and milk alternative options to add to your diet.
  1. Hemp milk. Hemp milk is made from ground, soaked hemp seeds, which do not contain the psychoactive component of the Cannabis sativa plant. ...
  2. Oat milk. ...
  3. Almond milk. ...
  4. Coconut milk. ...
  5. Cow's milk. ...
  6. A2 milk. ...
  7. Soy milk.
Nov 12, 2019

What are some food alternatives? ›

Tips for healthy food substitutes
  • Use applesauce instead of oil when baking. ...
  • Eat brown rice instead of white rice. ...
  • Use egg whites instead of whole eggs. ...
  • Choose multigrain or whole wheat pasta instead of white pasta. ...
  • Select low-fat cheese over full-fat cheese.

Are dairy alternatives better for you? ›

Are milk alternatives healthy? “Plant-based milks have developed a reputation as being healthier than traditional dairy, but that's not necessarily true,” says Roche. “They can contain lower levels of calcium, less protein and often have more sugar than traditional dairy milks.

Are eggs considered dairy? ›

The confusion could also come from the use of similar terminology - dairy product and animal by-product. But, contrary to these common misconceptions, eggs are NOT a dairy product. While eggs are indeed produced by animals and therefore by definition an animal by-product, they are not a derivative of dairy products.

What are dairy products to avoid? ›

Products made from cream — like ice cream, cream cheese, custard, or butter — should be avoided due to the high levels of lactose. In addition to some kinds of cheeses, some people with lactose intolerance may be able to eat yogurt in moderation, as the lactose has been partly broken down.

How many dairy alternatives are there? ›

There are about 17 different types of plant milks; almond, oat, soy, and coconut are the highest-selling worldwide. Production of plant-based milks, particularly soy and oat milks, can offer environmental advantages over animal milks in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, land and water use.

Does your body really need dairy? ›

Dairy isn't necessary in the diet for optimal health, but for many people, it is the easiest way to get the calcium, vitamin D, and protein they need to keep their heart, muscles, and bones healthy and functioning properly,” says Vasanti Malik, nutrition research scientist with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public ...

Why does cutting out dairy help you lose weight? ›

When you cut out dairy, you're automatically removing calorically dense foods. If you don't replace them with other heavy foods, then your overall calorie intake will go down, and you will probably mitigate weight gain or lose weight.

What foods are considered dairy? ›

The Dairy Group includes fluid milks, soymilk, cheeses, yogurt, and other foods that contain these dairy products, such as milk-based meal replacements, ice cream, and other frozen desserts. Other plant-based “milks” such as almond milk and rice drinks are currently not included in the Dairy group.

Is Butter considered dairy? ›

Anything made from the milk of mammals is considered dairy. Since butter is made from milk, it's a dairy product. Despite this, it's often allowed on dairy-free diets.

What happens to your body when you stop eating dairy and gluten? ›

Many people experience improved mood, reduced mental health issues, and a boost of energy by eliminating dairy and gluten. Going gluten-free and dairy-free may be just what you need to feel like yourself again.

How do you stay healthy on a dairy-free diet? ›

Getting enough protein from a dairy-free diet

For vegans simply replacing milk with soy milk, hemp or almond milk, which are good sources of protein is an easy option. Other vegan protein rich foods include tofu, beans and pulses, spirulina, and some wholegrains such as wheat and quinoa, nuts and seeds.

Which dairy alternative has the most protein? ›

9 Plant-Based Milks, Ranked by Protein
  • Rice milk has 0.7 g of protein per cup. ...
  • Almond milk has 1.5 g of protein per cup. ...
  • Oat milk has 2 g of protein per cup. ...
  • Hemp milk has 3 g of protein per cup. ...
  • Cashew milk has 4.5 g of protein per cup. ...
  • Soy milk has 6.5 g of protein per cup. ...
  • Pea milk has 8 g of protein per cup.
Oct 24, 2019

Which non dairy milk is best for gut health? ›

According to this guide, almond, hemp, and coconut milks may work for people with IBS. Just pay attention to your serving size. You may also want to try kefir. The fermentation process lowers lactose to a better level for those with IBS and lactose intolerance.

Which dairy alternative is most environmentally friendly? ›

While comparing several vegan milks, Niranjan explains, “The research shows that soy and oat milk have the smallest environmental footprint. They take little water to grow and have low emissions.” That said, he emphasizes, “compared to cow's milk, the differences between these vegan milks are pretty small.

What are healthy alternatives to fast food? ›

Fresh, frozen, or no-added-salt canned vegetables; fresh and dried fruit; and fruit canned in juice. Quick-cooking grains such as 10-minute brown rice and whole-wheat couscous. Cartons of 100% orange juice, milk, applesauce, peanut butter, and yogurt in your fridge and cabinets. These work great for road trips, too.

What are health alternatives? ›

Traditional alternative medicine may include:
  • Acupuncture.
  • Ayurveda.
  • Homeopathy.
  • Naturopathy.
  • Chinese or Oriental medicine.

What is a good alternative to water? ›

Bored with water? Try these 8 alternatives to keep you hydrated this summer
  • Water with an effervescent tablet. Water with an effervescent tablet. ...
  • Fruit-infused water or soda water. Fruit-infused water or soda water. ...
  • Coconut water. Coconut water. ...
  • Iced fresh fruit juice. Fresh fruit juice. ...
  • Kombucha. Kombucha.

What are 3 dairy alternatives? ›

Milk alternatives
  • Almond milk. Almond milk is a popular milk alternative because it is easy to make, cheap to buy, and many find it delicious. ...
  • Soy milk. Some doctors may recommend soy milk for people who are intolerant to dairy foods or looking to cut calories. ...
  • Coconut milk. ...
  • Rice milk. ...
  • Other options.

Can humans survive without dairy? ›

The bottom line is no, dairy products are not a nutritional requirement for humans. We can get all of the nutrients for optimal health from a high-quality diet that limits or contains no dairy.

Why is it important to select healthier food alternatives? ›

It can help you lose weight or maintain your desired weight. It also can lower your cholesterol and prevent certain health conditions. In general, a healthy diet keeps your body running on a daily basis. Learn how to make healthier food choices.

Why should we eat less meat and dairy? ›

Buy better, and less meat and dairy produce

are less likely to be overweight or obese; have lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels and around a third (32%) lower risk of getting heart disease; and. have around 10-12% lower risk of getting cancer.

Are dairy alternatives better for the environment? ›

Cow's milk has significantly higher impacts than the plant-based alternatives across all metrics. It causes around three times as much greenhouse gas emissions; uses around ten times as much land; two to twenty times as much freshwater; and creates much higher levels of eutrophication.

What are some healthy alternatives? ›

Tips for healthy food substitutes
  • Use applesauce instead of oil when baking. ...
  • Eat brown rice instead of white rice. ...
  • Use egg whites instead of whole eggs. ...
  • Choose multigrain or whole wheat pasta instead of white pasta. ...
  • Select low-fat cheese over full-fat cheese.

What is the meaning of healthy alternatives? ›

noun. : a food that is regarded as a healthier alternative to food that is prepared or produced by conventional methods. … organic and vegetarian products, sometimes called alternative foods, can be hard to find …

What do you think are the healthy alternatives? ›

Easy, Healthy Alternatives Everyone Should Know
  • Replace Jam with Smashed Avocado. ...
  • Replace Egg Whites With Whole Eggs. ...
  • Replace Creamer with Organic Whole Milk. ...
  • Swap Bagels for English Muffins. ...
  • Replace Mayo with Hummus. ...
  • Replace Rice with Riced Cauliflower. ...
  • Ditch Sour Cream for Greek Yogurt. ...
  • Applesauce.
Jun 14, 2020

Is it better to cut out dairy or meat? ›

Is cutting out dairy or meat a better option if you want to make a change? Simply put: if you care about the environment, then you should cut out meat. If you care about your health: you should cut out dairy.

Can you live without meat and dairy? ›

No! There is no nutritional need for humans to eat any animal products; all of our dietary needs, even as infants and children, are best supplied by an animal-free diet.

What are humans supposed to eat naturally? ›

Although many humans choose to eat both plants and meat, earning us the dubious title of “omnivore,” we're anatomically herbivorous. The good news is that if you want to eat like our ancestors, you still can: Nuts, vegetables, fruit, and legumes are the basis of a healthy vegan lifestyle.

Why are milk alternatives so popular? ›

Many people prefer them because they want or need to avoid dairy, but some choose them because they believe they are healthier than cow's milk. Some experts urge consumers to look beyond the hype and to examine the nutrition label, however, because some may not be as healthful as they seem.


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