What’s the deal with dairy, how much do we need, and what to do if your kids don’t like it

September 29, 2017

Do milkshakes count as good dairy sources? How much dairy should women be eating to avoid osteoporosis, and what are clever ways to ensure kids are getting enough calcium without feeding them just ice cream.

I was curious, so I asked registered dietitian Monique Piderit from Nutritional Solutions some dairy-related questions – here's the scoop (like ice cream, which is now on my mind!)

What contributes to good gut health?

A healthy diet plays a large role in a healthy gut. In particular, cconsuming fermented foods such as yoghurt and maas, which contain live cultures, in addition to fibrous fruit, vegetables and whole grains, can support a healthy gut microbiota and benefit overall health. There is a growing interest in the health-promoting potential of fermented foods.  Examples of popular fermented products include wine, bread, Sauerkraut, kefir, and Kimchi. However, good old-fashioned yoghurt and traditional maas are also fermented foods that add to gut health. 


Cow’s milk sometimes gets a bad rap. Why is this so? Is cow’s milk important, and if so, for what ages, and in what quantity (for toddlers and upwards)/ Is too much dairy a problem for kids?

Cow’s milk has been incorrectly labelled as the cause of runny noses, allergy, bloating, causing loose stools and even eczema. Many people will self-diagnose this reaction as being allergic to milk. This off course; is an easier option than to actually complete the very detailed process that one should actually follow to determine the “real issue”. So; oftentimes parents will not feed their children milk and milk products in the hope to improve their symptoms.

This is in fact; aggravating an already big form of malnutrition that we have. More than 6 out of every 10 children aged 1-9 years  was shown to be deficient in calcium in the National Dietary Survey. Although; there are alternative sources of calcium, dairy remains one of your best concentrated sources and one that is better absorbed and used by the body.

From one year old, a child should have 3-4 servings of dairy a day. It’s important to encourage variety in taste and textures. This means a child can explore all the dairy foods in a day, for example milk with their porridge or cereal, yoghurt as a snack and cheese on pasta for a main meal.

Of course too much of any food or food group can be a problem, dairy included. In the case of children, drinking too much milk can displace other foods and can reduce their appetite for other meals, This said, dairy is a complete protein because it contains all the essential amino acids that are the building blocks of protein and it naturally contains, calcium, magnesium, potassium and vitamins.

What are good sources of dairy?

Dairy foods such as milk, maas, and yoghurt are good sources of dairy, as is cheese. Research has shown that people whom consumer dairy products daily have a better overall diet and nutrient intake. While there is some calcium in foods like spinach, broccoli and baked beans, the amount is very low. For example, the equivalent calcium in a 250ml glass of milk (i.e. 300mg of calcium) means that we would need to eat 2 cups of spinach, 7 cups of broccoli, 9 cups of cabbage, or 3 cups of baked beans. The calcium in dairy is easily absorbed and digested by the body, meaning the body can effectively use it for health bones.

How much dairy should a child have per day?

The South African Food-based dietary guidelines recommend that we eat “milk, maas or yoghurt every day.” Consistently offering milk as a beverage to children will ensure that drinking milk becomes a lifelong habit. It is advised that children have 3 – 4 servings of dairy per day.

How much dairy is recommended for adults, and do women in particular need more dairy to prevent osteoporosis?

It is recommended to consume three servings of dairy a day (i.e. a total of 1000mg), with a portion calculated as containing 300mg calcium.  One serving of dairy is 1 glass (250ml) of milk, 2x 100ml tubs of yoghurt, 200ml of maas or drinking yoghurt, and 2 slices (40g) or 1/3 cup grated cheese. Added to meeting calcium intake, consuming 1 glass of milk through the day with 200ml yoghurt and 40 g Cheddar cheese will contribute to almost all of your vitamin B12 needs for the day.

For women over 50, we are concerned of their bone health so this group needs to get in about 1200mg of calcium per day that translates to 4 servings of dairy a day. While we do traditionally associate dairy with bone health, there are also many other great health benefits for adults including lower blood pressure, weight control, and reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Can milkshakes and ice cream be considered daily intakes of dairy?

As much as we know that these are items that children love, milkshakes and ice cream are high in sugar and fat which would dilute the nutritional value of the original milk product. These foods should be viewed as a treat. Also, these foods should not been encouraged to be eaten in big portions.

If a child does not enjoy dairy, what are good ways to get them taking dairy in?

A good way to sneak in some dairy is to make homemade smoothies or fruit shakes where you blend milk or yoghurt with fresh fruit like berries. Other ideas are to use cottage cheese as a spread or mix half mayo/ half cottage cheese when making mayo-requiring snacks or meals. Moms can also help encourage young children to enjoy dairy by praising the health benefits of dairy like strong and healthy bones and big teeth.

Freezing small tubs of yoghurt is also a great summer snack for kids in place of ice cream and other desserts. You can also make salad dressings and marinades with yoghurt, or use yoghurt in place of cream in soups like butternut as yoghurt’s creamy texture can replace less healthy food ingredients like butter and oil during baking and cooking, without compromising on taste.

If a recipe calls for oil, butter or mayonnaise, swop out half with plain yoghurt.

  • When baking, ¼ cup of yoghurt can replace one whole egg.
  • Avoid heating yoghurt too quickly as this can cause the yoghurt to separate. To avoid this, use yoghurt at room temperature, remove the pot from the stovetop, and add yoghurt slowly on lower heat.
  • Gently fold yoghurt into a dish rather than beating or whisking. Over stirring can cause the yoghurt to separate.
  • It is important to remember that live cultures are sensitive to heat. As such, when frozen or cooked with heat, the live cultures in the yoghurt die. However, it is good to know that other valuable dietary components of yoghurt, such as calcium and protein, remain in the yoghurt when used during cooking.

What should I be looking at when reading yoghurt labels?

Some yoghurt is sweetened with sugar and fruit pulp. However, it is a misconception that yoghurts are very high in sugar. In fact, small 100ml tub of low fat yoghurt has only about 1 t of added sugar. As with all dairy products, plain yoghurt contains some sugar in the form of naturally present lactose.

It is important to distinguish between intrinsic sugar (that is, naturally sugars in the yoghurt such as lactose) and extrinsic (that is, purposefully added) sugar. On the nutrition label, the sugar content represents the added sugar as well as the lactose from milk. This may be incorrectly interpreted as the yoghurt being higher in sugar than it is.


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1 Comment

  • MrsFF

    Yay.. thank you for this very informative piece! I’ve always wondered if my child was having too much milk and now I know she is having just enough! Me on the other hand need to find ways to up my intake considering I don’t like cheese

    October 2, 2017 at 6:39 am Reply
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