Is Dairy Good For Your Heart, Or Bad?

In this article you will learn about different types of dairy foods, their effects on heart health, how much & how often you can have dairy.

The most common dairy foods we eat are milk, yoghurt and cheese. They are high in calcium, protein, vitamins and minerals. But, they can also have unhealthy fats, namely, ruminant trans fat & saturated fat.

Not all dairy products are equal in terms of the effects on your heart health. It’s important to know the types of dairy products you eat and the effects they could have on your heart health.

Is Dairy Good Or Bad For Your Heart?

Research studies into dairy have come out with complex results. All in all milk, yoghurt and cheese have shown a ‘neutral’ impact on heart health. In other words, overall they don’t increase or decrease the risk of heart disease.

The intricacy arises from the fact that dairy products have ruminant trans fats & saturated fats, which can raise LDL “bad” cholesterol-level, a risk factor for heart disease.

However, the increase in cholesterol depends on what type of dairy food is consumed and the individual.

The Heart Foundation of Australia recommends that milk, yoghurt and cheese can form part of a heart-healthy diet, but most of the fat in the diet should come from fish, nuts, seeds and healthy oils.

The American Heart Association recommends a low-fat diet for heart health. Adults should have two to three servings of low-fat dairy products per day, children should have two servings, teenagers and older adults can have four servings per day. A serving consists of an 8-ounce cup of milk, 1-1/2 to 2 ounces of low fat cheese or 6 ounces of low-fat yogurt.

Choosing unflavoured & unsweetened milk, yoghurt, and cheese also helps limit the amount of added sugar in your diet.

How Many Servings Of Dairy Per Day Should You Have?

Since milk, yoghurt and cheese are considered ‘neutral’ for heart health, they can be eaten as part of a heart-healthy diet. But then, you can also have a heart-healthy diet without them.

Most research studies don’t point out a maximum or minimum portion size or amount of servings. However, the Australian Dietary Guidelines indicate eating between two to four serves of milk, yoghurt and cheese per day to ensure you get the adequate calcium.

 The following are example of serving sizes for milk, yoghurt and cheese: 

  • 1 cup milk
  • 200g (3/4 cup) unflavoured yoghurt
  • ½ cup of ricotta or cottage cheese
  • 40g (2 slices) of hard cheese.

Full-Fat vs Reduced-Fat Dairy

About this the research studies show mixed results. Some have shown that reduced-fat milk, yoghurt, and cheese are healthier for heart; on the other hand others show the full-fat options as healthier, and then again others show no difference between the two.

Australian Heart Foundation: The Australian Heart Foundation recommends reduced-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese for people suffering from heart disease or high cholesterol as the fat in dairy foods can increase cholesterol levels more for such people.

However, without enough clear cut evidence to show which one is better, healthy people can take their pick between full-fat or reduced-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese products.

American Heart Association: The American Heart Association recommends a low-fat diet for heart health.

Adults: Two to three servings of low-fat dairy products a day,

Children: 2 servings per day

Teenagers and Older adults: 4 servings per day.

Note: According to American Heart Association, a serving consists of an 8-ounce cup of milk, 1-1/2 to 2 ounces of low fat cheese or 6 ounces of low-fat yogurt.

What About Butter?

Studies have shown that butter increases both good and bad cholesterol, with the raise in bad cholesterol overshadowing the increase in good cholesterol. Butter impacts more the people who already have high cholesterol by increasing their levels even higher.

As there are no evidence to show that butter is good for your heart health, The Australian Heart Foundation recommends healthier options. The following are deliciously healthy alternatives:

  • Olive oil
  • Avocado
  • Nut butters
  • Spreads made with healthier oils, such as olive oil.
[Read here: Fat & Oil – Healthy Heart Guidelines]
Is Ice Cream Bad Or Good For Your Heart Health?

Dairy desserts, including Ice cream and cream, are not part of a heart-healthy diet as they contain more sugar and fat, and less protein, vitamins & minerals as compared to other dairy foods.

The Australian Heart Foundation recommends they should be consumed only occasionally and that too in small amounts.

[Read here: How Much Added Sugar You Can Have In A Day]

Dairy Alternatives?

Consuming dairy is a matter of personal choice. Some folks can’t eat dairy products because of intolerances or allergies. And some folks choose not to for health or personal reasons.

While eating dairy isn’t necessary for a heart-healthy diet, but without it, you should choose other calcium-rich alternatives.

The best alternatives for dairy milk can be – like soy, almond, oat or rice milk – with added calcium & no added sugar.

Some examples of non-dairy foods containing calcium are:

  • Fish with bones
  • Almonds
  • Tofu
Healthy Dairy Food Options

Examples of healthy dairy food options include:

  • Eat unflavoured & unsweetened yoghurt, which can make a great breakfast or snack. You mat throw in fruit or nuts & seeds for extra flavour.
  • Trade butter for healthier alternatives, like avocado, olive oil, or oil spreads.
  • Consider having cottage or ricotta cheese on wholegrain crackers as a snack.
Take-a-Ways: Dairy Vis-a-Vis A Heart-Healthy Diet
  • A heart-healthy diet can include dairy, but it’s not necessary.
  • Though unflavoured, unsweetened Milk, Yoghurt and Cheese have been shown to be ‘neutral’ to heart health, reduced-fat options are the best choice for those with high cholesterol or heart disease.
  • Butter, Ice cream and Cream are not part of a heart-healthy diet and should only be consumed occasionally & in small amounts.

About Author: Renu Bakshi, AKA Fitness Buffhq, is ISSA Certified Elite Trainer. He passed Renu Bakshi AKA Fitness BuffhqPersonal Fitness Trainer Course, Nutrition Health Coach course & Specialist Exercise Therapy course from ISSA, USA obtaining + 97% marks. He shares his experience and knowledge about nutrition and effective workouts to get you in the best shape of your life, no matter how old you may be. The author says: “For me age is just a number!”

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