Full-fat dairy and cheese good for heart health, experts now say

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The Heart Foundation says healthy Aussies can consume full-fat milk, cheese and yoghurt without increasing their risk of heart disease and stroke. Source: Pexels

While Australians have previously been told to avoid full-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese to benefit their heart health, the Heart Foundation now says these dairy items are a safe option for healthy Aussies looking to reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke. The new recommendations, released by the Heart Foundation on Wednesday, state that these foods don’t appear to increase or decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke in healthy people, but do contain essential nutrients that are required for overall health.

“Given this, we believe there is not enough evidence to support a restriction on full-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese for a healthy person, as they also provide healthy nutrients like calcium,” Heart Foundation chief medical advisor and cardiologist Professor Garry Jennings says.

But before you start guzzling down as much dairy as possible, those who suffer from high cholesterol or heart disease are still advised to stick to unflavoured reduced-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese. Jennings explains that other dairy items such as butter, cream, ice-cream and dairy-based desserts aren’t considered heart-healthy because they contain higher fat, more sugar levels and less protein, but dairy fat found in milk, cheese and yoghurt doesn’t raise bad LDL cholesterol levels as much as these other dairy products. This is important because along with high cholesterol and high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke and simple diet and lifestyle modifications can often reduce the risk of a life-threatening heart issue.

As part of the Heart Foundation’s recommendations, the limit of the number of eggs people can eat as part of a heart-healthy diet has also been lifted and those with high cholesterol, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes can now enjoy as many as seven eggs a week without risking their heart health. Australian Eggs has welcomed the news, with the company’s managing director Rowan McMonnies saying: “For years, people have received conflicting dietary advice based on outdated literature. This clarification reflects a large body of current science supporting the nutritional benefits of eggs.”

Leading Australian dietitian Sharon Natoli adds: “This updated position statement from the Heart Foundation provides reassurance that eggs can be eaten every day as a great way to boost nutritional intake. Not only do eggs provide 11 different vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, omega-3s and choline, they’re also a convenient, versatile, cost-effective and delicious source of high-quality protein.”

Meanwhile, Aussies are still being encouraged to cut back on the amount of red meat they consume, with research showing excessive consumption can increase the risk of weight gain, heart disease and stroke.

“We have introduced a limit of less than 350 grams a week for unprocessed beef, lamb, pork and veal. That’s around one to three lean red-meat meals a week, like a Sunday roast and a beef stir-fry,” Jennings says. “Processed or deli meats should be limited, as they have been consistently linked to a higher risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions.”

While protein is important for bone health, the muscles, cartilage and skin health, people are encouraged to get their daily intake from plant sources such as beans, lentils, legumes and tofu, as well as from seafood and small amounts of eggs and lean poultry. The Heart Foundation says heart-healthy eating is more about the combination of foods that are eaten regularly over time.

Poor diet is currently the leading contributor to heart disease in Australia, accounting for 65.5 per cent of the total burden. The Heart Foundation says if people ate the recommended daily intake of vegetables, the risk of cardiovascular disease would be reduced by around 16.6 per cent and save the country $1.4 billion in health spending a year.

“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,” Heart Foundation director of prevention Julie Anne Mitchell says. “What matters now is the combination of healthy foods and how regularly people eat them.”

Research shows that a third of adults get their daily energy from highly processed goods such as cakes, muffins, cakes, junk food and soft drinks instead of healthy foods and that smoking, high alcohol intake, an unhealthy weight and lack of exercise can increase the risk of heart problems. People should be aiming to be smoke-free, limit alcohol intake and get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week.

It’s always important to talk with a GP or dietitian about your individual risk factors for heart disease as they may be able to offer advice and recommendations for your specific situation.

Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and information purposes only. It does not take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. It is not personalised health advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any decisions about your health or changes to medication, diet and exercise routines you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from a medical professional.

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