[Parent Connection] Let’s Talk About Dairy

August 5, 2022

What foods are considered “Dairy”?

The dairy group generally includes milk, cheese and yogurt. While products such as butter and cream are also made of milk, they are not counted as “dairy” in the book of nutrition given their low calcium and high fat content. 

Nutritional value of dairy products

Besides the most mentioned calcium content, dairy products are also good sources of protein, vitamin A, B, D, and numerous other minerals including potassium, zinc and magnesium. Altogether, adequate consumption with these nutrients may bring a myriad of health benefits:

  • Normal functioning of musculoskeletal, nervous, and immune systems
  • Support bone development and increase bone mineral density in early years, hence, reduces risks of osteoporosis and bone fractures in late adult life
  • Serves as a key supply of protein and vitamin B12 to lacto- and lacto-ovo vegetarians
  • Boosts energy and protein intake in individuals with increased nutritional needs and/or declined appetite e.g., pregnant women and elderly

How much dairy should we consume? 

The Hong Kong Department of Health advises both children and adult to consume dairy products or alternatives everyday:

Age groupRecommended daily servings
2 to 52
6 to 112
12 to 182
18 and above1

One serving of dairy products is equivalent to:

  • 1 cup (240 mL) of low-fat milk
  • 2 slices of low-fat cheese
  • 1 cup (150 g) of low-fat yogurt
  • Appropriate non-dairy alternatives of the above

So… Dairy is all good for everyone?

Not exactly. Individuals who are diagnoses with Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy (CMPA) should avoid all dairy products in their diet while those with lactose intolerance may carefully consume various amounts of dairy based on their own tolerance levels.

Important Notice: For suspected cases of milk allergy or intolerance, please consult your physician and dietitian for safe and appropriate dietary recommendations.

Plant-based milks as alternatives

Plant-based substitutes have gained much popularity over the past few years especially in those who are switching to a vegetarian / vegan diet. When carefully chosen, these products can serve as a safe and nutritious alternative to conventional cow’s milk products, and more, lessen the environmental impact of your diet by carbon footprint reduction .

Common examples of plant-based milks include:

Soy milk, almond milk, oat milk, hemp milk, rice milk, macadamia milk, coconut milk

Generally speaking, soy milk has a nutritional profile closest to that of cow’s milk and is a complete protein source for vegetarians and vegan (i.e. it contains all the essential amino acids that the human body needs). On the other hand, coconut milk is naturally lower in protein but significantly higher in saturated milk. When picking your plant-based milk, make sure to read the food labels and choose one that is fortified with calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin D and other micronutrients to avoid missing out on the nutritional values otherwise provided by cow’s milk products!


  1. The dairy group includes milk, yogurt and cheese but not high-fat low-calcium cow’s milk products such as cream and butter.
  2. Both children and adults are recommended to consume dairy daily for various health benefits, especially in bone growth and maintenance.
  3. Plant-based alternatives are available for individuals with cow’s milk protein allergy, with lactose intolerance, or switching to a vegetarian / vegan diet.
  4. Fortified plant-based milks may provide similar nutritional values to the human body while lessening the environmental impact of one’s diet.


  1. Department of Health (HK). The Food Pyramid – A Guide to a Balanced Diet. Available at: https://www.chp.gov.hk/en/static/90017.html. Accessed on 13Jul2022.
  2. Hong Kong Department of Health (HK). Milk & Alternatives. Available at: https://www.chp.gov.hk/en/static/100014.html. Accessed on 13Jul2022.
  3. United States Department of Agriculture (US). Dairy – MyPlate. Available at: https://www.myplate.gov/eat-healthy/dairy. Accessed on 13Jul2022. 
  4. National Health Service (UK). Dairy and alternatives in your diet. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/food-types/milk-and-dairy-nutrition/. Accessed on 13Jul2022.
  5. The Association of UK Dietitians (UK). Dairy Benefits. Available at: https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/dairy-benefits.html. Accessed on 18Jul2022.
  6. Dietitians Australia (AUS). Plant-based milks. Available at: https://dietitiansaustralia.org.au/health-advice/plant-based-milks. Accessed on 13Jul2022.