Based on a substantial review of current research, the Heart Foundation now recommends unflavoured full-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese as a healthy option for Australians, while the limit on the amount of eggs that can be eaten per week has been raised.
“We have removed our restriction for healthy Australians on eating full-fat milk, cheese and yoghurt,” confirmed Heart Foundation Chief Medical Advisor, cardiologist Professor Garry Jennings.
“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 risk of heart disease or stroke.”
Heart Foundation Director of Prevention, Julie Ann Mitchell adds that healthy eating advice needs to reflect new evidence.
“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,” she said.
A word of caution
The caveat with the updated advice is people with known high cholesterol or heart disease.
“For people who suffer high cholesterol or heart disease, we recommend unflavoured reduced-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese, and eating less than seven eggs per week,” advised Professor Jennings.
Professor Jennings adds that the egg recommendation for people with Type 2 Diabetes remains at fewer than seven eggs per week as well, due to growing evidence that suggests “an increased risk with eating more eggs”.
“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 yoghurt does not raise LDL cholesterol levels as much as butter or other dairy products,” Professor Jennings added.
Limit red meat
While changes in recommendations around dairy and eggs have changed, the Heart Foundation maintains its advice on red meat and states that many Australians need to rethink how much red meat they’re eating.
Professor Jennings advises limiting red meat to less than 350 grams per week, or one to three lean red meat (unprocessed beef, lamb, pork and veal) meals a week.
Excessive intake of red meat intake is said to be associated with increased risk of heart disease and stroke, and may lead to weight gain.
However, Professor Jennings warns against processed or deli meats – these should be limited “as they have been consistently linked to a higher risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions”.
A whole lifestyle approach
The Heart Foundation’s dietitian, Sian Armstrong says the focus needs to be on the whole diet – “the big picture” and “choosing a variety of healthy foods, regularly”.
“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 the key to good heart health,” she said.
While poor diet is a known leading contributor to heart disease, Ms Armstrong says limiting alcohol, not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regular are also keys to heart health.