Know Your Dairy

The Importance Of Milk

Milk contains a variety of nutrients as well as vitamins and minerals which are all required to lead a healthy lifestyle. These nutrients include:

  • Protein – needed by the body for growth, repair, strengthening the immune system and muscles.
  • Carbohydrates (particularly lactose) – provides energy for daily tasks
  • Vitamins:
    • Vitamin A: Aids in protecting vision particularly at night
    • Vitamin B2,B6, B12: These vitamins are needed in order for various processes in the body to work properly, protecting cells and ensuring that the nervous system is functioning correctly (thus helping us to keep alert and concentrate properly)
  • Minerals:
    • Calcium: Aids in the development and maintenance of strong bones.
    • Magnesium: Aids muscles to work properly.
    • Phosphorous: Also required for bone health.
    • Potassium: Beneficial component of lowering blood pressure and aiding heart health
    • Zinc: Plays a role in immune function.


Various Dairy Products

The vast variety of dairy products make it possible to incorporate dairy into one’s diet in many interesting, innovative, tasty and fun ways! Remember that the nutritional composition of the products may vary from one to another which means that some of the portion sizes will vary and while it’s healthy to eat some on a regular basis, others should be saved for special occasions (don’t worry we’ll provide tips along the way).

In this article, the dairy products have been categorised as follows:

  • Milk products
  • Fermented (or cultured) products
  • Dairy fat products
  • Cheeses

Description Of Dairy Products


Milk is a popular and nutritional beverage that can be used to add nutritional value, texture, flavour and colour to baked or cooked foods. It can be classified according to its fat content as follows:

  • Full-cream milk: Typically contains 3.4% fat (±8g/250ml)
  • Low fat milk: Typically contains 1.5-2% fat (±5g/250ml)
  • Fat-Free (Non-fat or skimmed milk): Typically contains less than 1.5% fat (±0-3g/250ml)







Fermented (CULTURED) Milk

These products have been made by adding a bacteria culture to fluid milk products which basically converts the milk sugar, lactose into lactic acid, resulting in the product having a fuller bodied, tart or tangy flavour. These products include:

  • Buttermilk: made by adding a bacterial culture (Streptococcus lactis) to low-fat or skimmed milk resulting in it having a sour/ tart taste with a thicker texture. This is most commonly used in baked products or as a beverage.
  • Yogurt: made by adding a bacterial culture (Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus) to skimmed, Low-fat, or Full-cream milk. The result? A thick product resembling custard in consistency with a tart taste. The fat content resembles that of the milk to which the bacteria has been added.
  • Maas: A milk product similar to yogurt or buttermilk which is creamy-white in colour and has a distinctive sour taste. This product is made through a fermentation process by natural bacteria or added bacterial cultures (Lactococcus lactis or Leuconostoc mesenteroides).
  • Kefir: Fermented milk product that has been made by soaking kefir grains (gelatinous beads that contain a variety of bacterial cultures and yeasts) with milk for at least twenty four hours. The grains are strained and the liquid is ready to be consumed.

The dairy products mentioned on this page are appropriate to be incorporated on a daily basis as part of a healthy diet. Choosing low fat or fat free options will aid in an energy controlled diet. Two to three servings, one serving being approximately 1 cup (250ml), per day of these products aid in meeting calcium requirements.

Milk Fat Products

These products have a significantly higher fat content thereby giving it a richer, full-bodied taste and creamier texture.

Cream: Consisting of about 18-36% fat this is a liquid milk product which has a rich taste and can be used to provide flavour and body to sauces, soups and desserts.  Portion Size: 1Tbsp

Butter: Produced by churning cream to give a product that is solid when chilled and soft at room temperature. This milk product contains at least 80% milk fat and can be used in baking, making sauces or as a spread. Portion Size: 1Tsp

Sour Cream: This can also be classified as a fermented milk product and is made by adding the bacterial culture Streptococcus lactis to cream (with at least 18% milk fat) to make a product gel-like in consistency with a tangy taste which can be used as a condiment or in baked products to give a characteristic taste. Portion size: 2 tbsp

Crème Fraiche:  Also a cultured dairy product, resembling sour cream in taste but slightly thinner in texture, primarily used in soups and sauces and complements lamb and poultry dishes very well. Portion size: 2 tbsp







Cheese is a food which is derived from milk solids (curd) and is commonly used to add flavour, texture and colour to foods

Cheese is usually classified as a protein and one serving is about 30g.  We classified the cheeses as being low fat (*), Medium fat (¡) or high fat (¢). Cream cheese is considered as a fat with the portion size in brackets.

Cheese can be classified according to their firmness or level of moisture as will be illustrated below:


These cheeses typically have moisture content between 40-80% and are uncooked or unripened with a mild, tangy taste and creamy texture.

  • Cream cheese (1Tbsp)
  • Mascarpone ¢
  • Cottage cheese *
  • Mozarella *
  • Ricotta *
  • Feta ¡


These cheeses typically have a moisture content between 40 and 50% and are known for having a buttery taste and smooth texture

  • Gorgonzola ¢
  • Gouda ¢
  • Roquefort ¢
  • Port du salut ¢
  • Stilton ¢


Moisture content of about 30%. These cheeses have been carefully aged and are usually grated into foods to add flavour.

  • Grana Padano ¢
  • Parmesan ¢
  • Pecorino ¢


Ripen quickly. Typically have a moisture content between 50-75% and are well known for having a thin skin and creamy centre.

  • Brie ¢
  • Camembert ¢


Moisture content ranges from 30 to 40%. These cheeses usually have a more dense texture and should not be brittle or hard.

  • Cheddar ¢
  • Emmenthaler ¢
  • Gruyere ¢
  • Provolone ¢


Compiled By Cecile Niebuhr, RD(SA)


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