Milk is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, particularly calcium. It has an important role in bone health. Nutritionists recommend that people have milk and other dairy products, such as yoghurt and cheese, every day as part of a balanced diet.

In this post, Pritish Kumar explained a complete food source, milk. Also, nutrients in milk and other health-related facts are associated with it.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that people over the age of 2 years have mostly reduced-fat products to lower the amount of energy (kilojoules) while still getting all of the other nutritional benefits from dairy foods.

Milk and milk products

Nutrients in milk

Milk and milk products have a good balance of protein , fat and carbohydrate and are a very important source of essential nutrients, including:

  • calcium
  • riboflavin
  • phosphorous
  • vitamins A and B12
  • potassium
  • magnesium
  • zinc
  • iodine

Milk products also have ‘high-quality proteins’ that are well suited to human needs. For example, having milk (or yoghurt) with cereal can provide amino acids that may be lacking in the cereal product.

Milk and health conditions

There are many myths about the negative impacts of milk on health. Changing how much milk you drink because of these myths may mean you are unnecessarily restricting this highly nutritious drink.

Australians often restrict dairy foods when they try to lose weight, believing them to be fattening. While dairy products naturally contain fat, there are many reduced fat products available.

Dairy foods like milk, yoghurt and cheese (particularly reduced-fat products) are not a threat to good health if had as part of a well-balanced nutritious diet.

Research has shown:

Cardiovascular health

There may be a protective effect of milk for stroke risk. The Heart Foundation says that unless you already have coronary heart disease or elevated cholesterol, full fat milk, yoghurt and cheeses  are unlikely to increase your risk of heart disease when consumed as part of a healthy eating pattern.


If milk and milk products are removed from the diet, it can lead to an inadequate intake of calcium. This is especially a concern for women over the age of 50 and the elderly, who have high calcium needs. Calcium deficiency may lead to conditions like osteoporosis (a disease that results in loss of bone).

Colorectal cancer (also known as bowel cancer)

According to the World Cancer Research Fund, people who regularly eat more than one serve of dairy products each day (particularly milk) have a reduced risk of developing colon cancer.

Blood pressure

Having milk and dairy products is associated with lowered blood pressure. And, when low-fat dairy foods are combined with a high intake of fruits and vegetables, blood pressure is lowered more than by just having fruits and vegetables.

Type 2 diabetes

Dairy products in general, particularly those that are low-fat, are protective against developing type 2 diabetes.

Many people in Australia believe that nasal stuffiness or increased mucous is related, in part, to how much milk you drink. However, there is no evidence to support this theory. Milk doesn’t encourage extra mucous production.

Flavored milk

Milk is an important source of nutrients for children. A glass of milk with a small amount of flavoring (such as one level teaspoon of chocolate powder) is a healthier option for children than other sugar-sweetened drinks such as soft drinks, flavored waters, fruit drinks and cordials. However, if you choose to give your child flavored milk, this should be in moderation.

As children move into their teenage years, the time when they need the most calcium, they tend to drink less milk and more sugary soft drinks. As milk is a healthier choice, it’s worth encouraging teenagers to drink reduced-fat flavored milk rather than soft drinks.

Water and plain milk are the best drinks for children and teenagers.

Milk and tooth decay

Milk and milk products are thought to protect against tooth decay. Eating cheese and other dairy products:

  • reduces oral acidity (which causes decay)
  • stimulates saliva flow
  • reduces plaque formation
  • reduces the incidence of dental caries (tooth decay).

Drink pasteurized milk

Most milk on the market is pasteurized (heat treated then cooled). While pasteurization reduces the amount of some vitamins, such as vitamin C, it also kills bacteria. Never drink unpasteurized or raw milk, as you have an increased risk of gastrointestinal illness from pathogens (bugs, germs, bacteria).

There are many types of pasteurized milks on the market, including:

Full cream – full-cream milk contains around 4% fat. For children up to the age of 2 years, full-cream milk is recommended.

Reduced fat – expect around half as much fat in reduced-fat milk as full-cream. Children over the age of 2 years can drink reduced-fat milk.

Skim milk – has a maximum of 0.15% fat. There are some brands of reduced-fat and skim milk that have vitamin A and D added to replace the naturally occurring vitamins that are reduced when the fat is removed.

Calcium enriched – a 250 ml glass of calcium-enriched milk contains 408–500 mg of calcium.

A2 milk – milks labelled as ‘A2’ primarily consist of a form of β-casein protein called A2 and generally lack the A1 form. It is thought that the A2 form of β-casein protein is more easily digested by some people than the A1 form.

Lactose-free – these milks are the same as regular milks but have had the lactose (sugar) removed to make it easier to digest for people who have difficulty digesting lactose.

Flavoured – these milks can either be full cream or reduced fat. However, most varieties contain added sugar and should be consumed only sometimes.

UHT (ultra-high temperature-treated) milk – is treated with very high heat to allow milk to be stored for long periods.

What is permeate?

When shopping for milk, you might have seen the word ‘permeate’ on the label. Permeate is the term used in the dairy industry that refers to the lactose, vitamin and mineral content that has been extracted from milk using ultrafiltration – it is not an addition of anything to milk that was not already there.

The quality and composition of milk varies between different breeds of cows, different farms and at different times of the year. Because of this, sometimes manufacturers use permeate to ‘standardise’ the milk, to ensure a consistent product is produced year-round.

Lactose intolerance

Lactose is a type of carbohydrate or sugar that naturally occurs in milk from any mammal, including humans. Normally, an enzyme in the small intestine called lactase breaks down lactose so it can be absorbed into the bloodstream. Some people don’t produce enough lactase. When they drink milk, undigested lactose is broken up by the bacteria in their large intestine causing gas, bloating, pain and diarrhoea. This condition is called ‘lactose intolerance’.

Milk and milk products are highly nutritious, so people who are lactose intolerant should not give them up entirely. If you have been diagnosed with lactose intolerance, try using lactose-free milk, or continue to have standard milk but in lower quantities.

Soy and other plant-based milks as alternatives

There are many plant-based milks and plant-based milk products (such as custard, cheese and yoghurts) available to buy. These include soy, rice, oat, coconut and nut milks such as almond and macadamia.

These ‘milks’ are all lactose-free and suitable for people following vegan diets. However, they don’t all provide the same nutrient types and amounts as regular cows’ milk, so it is important that you read their labels closely.

If choosing plant-based milk and plant-based milk products over dairy milk and dairy milk products, make sure you choose products that are fortified with calcium, and are unsweetened.