Milk and dairy foods are the main calcium providers in the European diet, contributing between around 40% and 70% of calcium intake, according to a new EU report on dairy.

However, the ‘Milk, nutritious by nature’ report also says that dairy also makes important contributions to riboflavin, vitamin B12, and iodine intake; and in many cases, significant amounts of high quality protein, phosphorus, zinc and potassium.

But dairy intakes in European countries may be different to other parts of the world such as the US or Asia where consumption is often lower and they can also differ between European countries.

In addition, the composition of milk and dairy products can vary between Europe and elsewhere depending, for instance, on animal feeding practices e.g. whether the cows are fed predominantly on grain or are on fresh pasture.

According to the report, few other foods naturally contain as much calcium, and dairy sources are some of the most bioavailable. In a recent meta-analysis of five cohort studies, consumption of dairy foods was associated with a 13% reduced risk of elevated blood pressure. Further analysis suggested that the effect may be driven by low-fat dairy and ‘fluid’ foods (defined as milk and yogurt); cheese and full-fat dairy foods had no association with risk of high blood pressure.

In another meta-analysis of nine prospective cohort studies in 2012, dairy consumption was also associated with a reduced risk of hypertension. Again, the effects were specific for low-fat dairy and milk (3% reduction per 200g/day) whereas there was no association for cheese, full-fat dairy, total fermented dairy and, in this case, for yogurt.