The asthma milk myth - busted!

By Leanne Koster · 4 Feb 2016

With so many different messages out there about what’s good or bad for you it can be hard to know what’s what. One long-standing myth that was busted years ago is the ‘milk myth’ but with many people still unsure about what is true and what isn't, we thought we’d provide some answers.

Should I avoid milk and other dairy products?

No. The ‘milk myth’ – the idea that milk makes mucous or that dairy products trigger asthma – has been busted by scientists for some time. In fact, cow’s milk and other dairy foods very rarely trigger asthma symptoms in people without milk allergy. There have even been studies, both in Australia and overseas, that suggest if you have a regular intake of dairy products in childhood, you are less likely to develop asthma.

Concern about mucous is one of the most common reasons why people with asthma avoid dairy products, but it’s a misconception. The milk=mucous idea comes from the mouth-feel associated with milk – some people confuse the coating that milk can leave on the back of the throat with mucus, but there is no evidence that milk increases mucous or narrows the airways.

Unfortunately, most Australians are missing out on the health benefits that come from consuming milk, cheese and yogurt as they don’t include enough dairy foods in their diet. It is estimated that eight out of 10 Australian adults and most Australian children need to increase their intake of the dairy food group in order to meet the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

So unless diagnosed with a specific allergy or intolerance to dairy foods by your doctor, there is no reason to restrict or remove dairy foods from your diet. The best way to achieve good asthma control is to follow a written asthma action plan developed with your doctor. 

If you or your child has been diagnosed by a doctor or allergy specialist with a dairy intolerance or allergy, it is important that you make the right food choices to ensure that you or your child get the calcium and other nutrients you need for a healthy and balanced diet. If you need further information or advice have a chat to your doctor or dietician.

Can healthy eating help improve my asthma?

There is evidence to suggest that healthy eating may contribute to healthy airways.

A healthy diet and being physically active is important for all people including those with asthma. Eating a wide variety of foods from the five food groups will provide the range of nutrients people need. This means: 

  • Fill your plate with a variety of types and colours of vegetables; aim for five serves a day. Eat two serves of fruit a day.
  • Select wholegrain rather than white/refined varieties of bread, pasta, noodles, breakfast cereals and rice.
  • Choose lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds and legumes.
  • Ensure you get at least the minimum recommended intake of foods from the dairy food group.
  • Eat less junk (discretionary) foods and drinks such as fried potatoes, cakes and muffins, soft drinks, energy drinks and meat pies.

More information


Leanne K
National Asthma Council Australia