Dairy products are important contributors to nutrient intakes. However, dairy intakes are reportedly declining in developed populations, potentially due to concerns regarding Na and SFA in dairy foods, particularly cheese. This could impact other nutrient intakes. The present study used data from the National Adult Nutrition Survey (NANS) to (1) examine dairy intakes, with a specific focus on cheese, and (2) to examine the contribution of cheese to population nutrient intakes. The NANS captured detailed dietary intake data from a nationally representative sample (n 1500) between 2008 and 2010 using 4-d semi-weighed food diaries; 99·9 % of the population reported dairy intake. Mean daily population dairy intake was 290·0 (sd 202·1) g. Dairy products provided 8·7 % of the population intake of reported dietary Na, 19·8 % SFA, 39 % Ca, 34·5 % vitamin B12 and 10·5 % Mg. Cheese alone provided 3·9 % Na intake, 9·1 % Ca, 12·6 % retinol, 8·3 % SFA, 3·7 % protein, 3·4 % vitamin B12 and 3·2 % riboflavin. High dairy consumers had greater Ca and Mg intakes per 10 MJ, greater total energy intake, greater percentage of energy from carbohydrate and SFA and lower Na intakes compared with low dairy consumers. Similar trends were observed for high consumers of cheese for most nutrients except Na. These results demonstrate that dairy and cheese are important contributors to nutrient intakes of public health interest, such as Ca and B12. Our analysis also demonstrated that food-based dietary guidelines recommending lower-fat versions of dairy products are warranted.