• The nutrient matrix within Dairy is a complex system whereby individual nutrients are more easily absorbed, making them more ‘bioavailable’ to us, because of how they interact together.
  • The natural sugar, lactose, in milk is a ‘healthy’ sugar being partly fermented by our gut microbes and not causing the high blood sugar spikes from sugars within other drinks.
  • Dairy foods are complex physical structures housing macronutrients, micronutrients and various other components.
  • Most of us know that milk, cheese and yoghurt are excellent sources of calcium, but dairy foods naturally contain a unique package of nutrients including B vitamins, high-quality protein, iodine, and also rich in magnesium, potassium, carbohydrate, various fatty acids and bioactive components.
  • Calcium is absorbed ‘passively’ between the cells lining our gut wall or ‘actively’ through these cells. In both cases calcium needs to be bound to protein. This and other nutrient matrix effects means that Calcium is absorbed better from Dairy than any other food source.
  • Compare this to spinach, for example, where the bioavailability of calcium is low (about 5% of its calcium is absorbed) because spinach also contains oxalic acid which inhibits its absorption.

Image sourced from Kerry Health and Nutrition Institute

The Nutrient-rich Dairy matrix vs Plant-based drinks

  • Calcium-fortified plant-based drinks are included as a ‘Milk alternative’ in the nutrition recommendations in several countries. However, nutritionally, sheep's milk and plant-based drinks are very different foods.
  • Dairy milk remains the best ‘milk’ source of healthy fats, protein, and micronutrients.
  • References Protein - Certain plant-based drinks are lacking in essential amino acids (protein building blocks) but dairy milk is a complete source of these vital nutrients. Soy is higher in protein and a good choice for patients with true milk allergy. The increased production of soy in South America has been the one of the main causes of deforestation.
  • The nutrient density of plant-based drinks varies considerably between and within types depending on processing, fortification with vitamins and minerals, and the addition of other ingredients such as sugar and oil. Many contain only a very small portion of the original food often less than 10%.
  • No robust evidence as to the bioavailbility of fortified nutrients when present as ‘individual nutrients’ not in their natural food matrix exists.
  • Water consumption – almond milk requires 80 litres water for 1 litre of milk vs dairy which on average is about 8 litres of water per litre of milk. The majority of almonds come from California which has suffered decades of drought.


Geiker, N., Mølgaard, C., Iuliano, S. et al. Impact of whole dairy matrix on musculoskeletal health and aging–current knowledge and research gaps. Osteoporos Int 31, 601–615 (2020).

Bioavailability of Micronutrients From Nutrient-Dense Whole Foods: Zooming in on Dairy, Vegetables, and Fruit: (Accessed 20th December 2021)

Gue╠üguen, L., & Pointillart, A. (2000). The bioavailability of dietary calcium. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 119–136.


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