New advice from Australia’s Heart Foundation on dairy

By Jim Cornall contact

- Last updated on GMT

The Heart Foundation's chief medical advisor said there is not enough evidence to support a restriction on full-fat milk, yogurt and cheese for a healthy person. Pic: Getty Images/Sirikornt
The Heart Foundation's chief medical advisor said there is not enough evidence to support a restriction on full-fat milk, yogurt and cheese for a healthy person. Pic: Getty Images/Sirikornt

Related tags: Australia, Heart health

Unflavored full-fat milk, yogurt and cheese are now an option for Australians, according to the country’s Heart Foundation – within limits.

Heart Foundation chief medical advisor, cardiologist Professor Garry Jennings, said Australians should cut back on meat and get most of their heart-healthy protein from plant sources such as beans, lentils (legumes) and tofu, as well as fish and seafood, with a smaller amount from eggs and lean poultry.

“We have removed our restriction for healthy Australians on eating full-fat milk, cheese and yogurt. While the evidence was mixed, this type of dairy was found to have a neutral effect, in that it doesn’t increase or decrease your risks for heart disease or stroke,”​ Jennings said.

“Given this, we believe there is not enough evidence to support a restriction on full-fat milk, yogurt and cheese for a healthy person, as they also provide healthy nutrients like calcium.”

But Jennings warned that limits apply to the new advice around dairy.

“For people who suffer high cholesterol or heart disease, we recommend unflavored reduced-fat milk, yogurt and cheese and eating less than seven eggs per week.

“Butter, cream, ice-cream and dairy-based desserts are not recommended as heart-healthy, as they contain higher fat and sugar levels and less protein. Evidence found the dairy fat in milk, cheese and yogurt does not raise bad LDL cholesterol levels as much as butter or other dairy products.”

New evidence

Heart Foundation director of prevention, Julie Anne Mitchell, said healthy eating advice should reflect new evidence. 

“Over time, the Heart Foundation’s advice for heart-healthy eating has shifted with the evidence to downplay individual nutrients and look more closely at whole foods and patterns of eating. What matters now is the combination of healthy foods and how regularly people eat them,” ​Mitchell said.

“The increase in availability and promotion of highly processed foods at the expense of healthy foods has meant that too many Australian adults get more than a third of their total daily energy from high-kilojoule, nutrient-poor junk foods like cakes, muffins, pastries, alcohol and soft drinks.

“Our focus needs to be squarely on promoting healthy foods over unhealthy foods, with a comprehensive national approach, grounded in evidence, that helps make the healthy choice the easy choice.”

Heart Foundation dietitian Sian Armstrong said the ‘big picture’ matters, and choosing a variety of healthy foods, regularly over time, is key.

“Eating more plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits and wholegrains, and healthy proteins like fish and seafood with smaller amounts of animal-based foods, while cutting down on highly processed junk foods is key to good heart health,” ​Armstrong said.

“To be heart-healthy, it’s also important to be smoke-free, limit alcohol intake, maintain a healthy weight and get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on five days a week.”

The updated advice was based on a review of current evidence. The Heart Foundation commissioned the Sax Institute to investigate the scientific evidence regarding unprocessed red meat, poultry and heart health. Heart Foundation policy and nutrition staff reviewed scientific evidence into dairy and eggs. The Heart Foundation convened an advisory group of cardiology and nutrition experts to discuss the evidence and advise on a final position.

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