Why dairy protein is so good for you 

The amino acids released from the protein we consume are hard at work in your body every day: growing muscle, repairing cells and helping you function at your best.

“Dairy is a rich source of protein, which is a key part of our diets,” says Simon Gilmour, Senior Research Scientist. “Milk and dairy products provide you with high-quality protein that contains all the essential amino acids you need as part of a balanced diet. Compared to plant-based products, dairy protein is generally easier to digest and provides all the essential amino acids in the amounts you require. This makes dairy products a great way to get the protein you need, into your diet – it’s especially easy since they’re so delicious and versatile.” 

The protein found in milk and dairy products is high quality, and it gives you the building blocks you need to support a healthy life. 

Protein is vital for a healthy life 

There are around 30 trillion human cells in your body, and every single one of them contains protein. The human body contains more than 30,000 different types of proteins and they have many crucial roles to play within your body, including:

  • Growing and maintaining of all types of cells. 
  • Producing and repairing muscle. 
  • Repairing cell damage, to help you recover from an injury or illness.
  • Working alongside calcium to improve bone health.
  • Catalysing chemical reactions that your body depends on for digestion, energy production, blood clotting and proper muscular function.

Protein builds and maintains muscle at every life stage

  • Allowing your cells, tissues and organs to communicate via hormones.
  • Providing structure to your cells, including your hair, nails, skin, bones and tendons.
  • Maintaining the right balance of acids and bases in your blood and other fluids.
  • Regulating fluid levels in your body.
  • Boosting your immune function by helping form antibodies to fight infection.
  • Transporting and storing nutrients like vitamins, minerals and oxygen.
  • Supplying your body with energy. 

With the right amount of protein in your diet, you support healthy muscle growth, a strong immune system, and a well-functioning body.  

Milk is a complete protein

Protein is made of amino acids, which are the building blocks of body cells – but not all proteins are created equal. 

There are 20 primary amino acids which your body needs every day to build new proteins. Some of these proteins are produced by your body, but nine of these essential amino acids must come from your diet:

  • Isoleucine 
  • Leucine 
  • Lysine 
  • Valine  
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine 
  • Threonine 
  • Tryptophan 
  • Histidine

Milk contains all nine of these essential amino acids, which is why it's often described as a 'complete' protein. Other proteins, in particular plant proteins, are missing one of more of the nine essential amino acids, so these are sometimes referred to as 'incomplete' proteins.

One method of measuring protein quality is the Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score (DIAAS). The DIAAS score for milk shows that it has higher protein bioavailability than plant-based beverages. Milk has a DIAAS score of 1.15, compared to 0.92 for soy drinks, 0.50 for oat drinks and just 0.33 for almond drinks. 

Almond, rice and oat drinks have the lowest protein quality and soy has the highest protein quality among the most common plant-based beverages. 

“Plants can contain high levels of specific amino acids, but most do not contain the full range that we need every day,” explains Simon. “Dairy products have an amino acid profile that is a better match for human digestion and requirements.”

Dairy is a great way to incorporate protein into your daily diet, whether it’s yoghurt at breakfast, milk in your coffee, or cheese on your lasagne at dinner.

Simon Gilmour, Senior Research Scientist, fonterra

Protein builds and maintains muscle at every life stage

Quality protein supports your nutritional needs at all ages and stages. For children, protein has an integral role to play in growth and development. Too little protein can lead to stunting, and children with lower protein intake are four times more likely to experience stunting when compared to children who get the recommended protein intake.  

As an adult, protein supports the building of muscle and repairs the muscle you already have, which helps you stay fit and active throughout your life. High-quality protein like that found in milk promotes muscle growth and maintenance of lean body mass; whereas incomplete proteins, such as soy,
don’t stimulate muscle growth to the same extent

Quality protein is helpful for anyone who wants to maintain a healthy body composition, but particularly beneficial for older adults. Consuming more protein is
associated with less muscle loss as we age. For example, for women in their seventies, a higher protein diet led to

  • More muscle mass 
  • Better grip strength 
  • Greater mobility in walking and standing
  • Fewer falls

“Building muscle and maintaining your muscle mass helps you live an active and healthy life,” Simon says. “Protein is so valuable as we age, to maintain muscle so we can enjoy an active and independent life. Dairy is a great way to incorporate protein into your daily diet, whether it’s yoghurt at breakfast, milk in your coffee, or cheese on your lasagne at dinner.”

Quality, not just quantity 

Getting enough protein in your diet is crucial, but quality is just as important as quantity. The recommended daily dietary intake of protein varies, but one common measure is 0.8kg per kilogram of body weight. For a 75kg person, this means a protein intake of 60 grams each day. 

Dairy products are a convenient and delicious way to incorporate high-quality protein into your diet. One 250ml glass of standard milk contains 8 grams of protein, while a 125g pottle of yoghurt contains 5 grams, and a thumb-sized wedge of hard cheese contains 8 grams.  For those who are active or who are simply looking for more protein in their diet, protein enriched dairy products are a good option. For example, a protein enriched milk can deliver 15g protein per serve, and a protein enriched yoghurt 13.6g per serve.  “It’s so easy to get more protein in your diet by adding in a glass of milk, yoghurt or cheese,” Simon says. “At every age, dairy products are a tasty way to get the protein you need to help you build and maintain a strong, healthy body.”