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Dairy Council

Older People

Enjoying a healthy, balanced diet is just as important in our senior years as when we are younger. The rich mix of nutrients in milk and dairy foods make them a valuable part of the diets of older people, including providing calcium, protein, phosphorus and vitamin B12.

Together with staying active, having meals and snacks that are packed with nutritious foods can help our bodies manage all the changes that naturally occur as we get older.

The benefits of milk and dairy foods for older people

  • Milk and dairy foods are tasty, convenient and affordable

  • Dairy foods provide high–quality protein which, along with physical activity, contributes to maintaining muscle as we get older. Protein contributes to maintaining bone health too

  • Milk and dairy can be an easy way of adding valuable protein to older people's diets - milk on cereal at breakfast, for example, or in a drink before bed. A pot of yogurt or a piece of cheese can make a quick, tasty protein-rich snack

  • Milk and dairy foods are also good calcium–providers for helping to maintain bones 

  • A study in Austrailan care homes found that improving dairy consumption from 3 to 4.5 servings a day was an effective way to increase the calcium and protein intakes of the residents

  • Calcium can help to reduce loss of bone mineral in postmenopausal women; for women over 50 years an extra 500mg is suggested so 1,200mg calcium per day in total. The recommendation for men is 700mg calcium per day

  • Vitamin D is also important for healthy bones in older people as it’s needed for the absorption of calcium from food. We get small amounts of vitamin D from our diet, from foods such as oily fish, meat and eggs, and foods with added vitamin D including some breakfast cereals, milks and yogurts but the majority is made in our skin from exposure to summer sunlight. As we get older, our skin becomes less efficient at producing vitamin D

  • Older people who don’t get outdoors very often or who cover up when they are outside, are particularly at risk of being short of vitamin D. It is recommended that people over the age of 65 take a 10 microgram supplement of vitamin D each day

  • Along with calcium and protein, foods from the milk and dairy group contain other important nutrients for older people – for example, yogurt and milk have riboflavin (also known as vitamin B2), which contributes to the normal functioning of the nervous system, and vitamin B12 for normal red blood cell formation and the immune system.

Find out more about the functions of milk and dairy nutrients for older people:

Functions of dairy nutrients

Diet quality for older people in NI

Nutrient-rich milk and dairy foods make an important contribution to the nutritional quality of the diets of older people in Northern Ireland. In NI, over 40% of the calcium intake of the over 65s comes from milk, cheese and yogurt making dairy foods the biggest contributor for this important nutrient. They also provide significant amounts of many other nutrients including high–quality protein, vitamin B2 and iodine.

Contribution (%) of milk and dairy foods to nutrient intakes in Northern Ireland


  • Protein

  • Calcium

  • Potassium

  • Iodine

  • Zinc

  •  Vitamin A

  •  Vitamin B2

65 + years

  • 16

  • 43

  • 14

  • 39

  • 17

  • 15

  • 36

Reference: National Diet and Nutrition Survey. Results from Years 5–9 (combined) of the Rolling Programme (2012/13–2016/17): Northern Ireland

Nutrition and health professionals can find out more about the effects of providing extra dairy foods for older people in residential care in the Health Professional area of the website

Improving dairy in residential care study