New advice from the Heart Foundation on meat, dairy and eggs

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Unflavoured full-fat milk, yogurt and cheese are now an option for healthy Australians, while the limit has lifted on the number of eggs that can be eaten per week in a heart-healthy diet. But the Heart Foundation says many Australians need to rethink how much red meat they’re eating, as evidence indicates it increases risks for heart disease and stroke and may lead to weight gain.

Heart Foundation Chief Medical Advisor, cardiologist Professor Garry Jennings, said, “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.

“Processed or deli meats should be limited, as they have been consistently linked to a higher risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions,” Professor Jennings said.

“Instead, we suggest people should 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. Heart-healthy eating is more about the combination of foods, eaten regularly over time.

“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.

“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 Professor Jennings warned that limits apply to the new advice around dairy and eggs.

“For people who suffer high cholesterol or heart disease, we recommend unflavoured 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.

 “We now advise people with Type 2 Diabetes to eat fewer than seven eggs per week, as growing evidence suggests an increased risk with eating more eggs.

“Type 2 Diabetes, along with high cholesterol and high blood pressure, are risks for heart disease and stroke that we can all take steps to avoid through diet and lifestyle changes,” Professor Jennings said.

Poor diet is the leading contributor to heart disease, accounting for 65.5 per cent of the total burden of disease. Yet if Australians ate the recommended daily intake of vegetables, it would reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases by approximately 16.6% and save $1.4 billion in health spending, based on 2015-16 estimates.

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,” Ms 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 when it comes to eating, 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.

“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.”

This updated advice on meat, dairy and eggs is based on a substantial 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 this evidence and advise on a final position.

Get more information on healthy eating, browse our selection of heart-healthy recipes, or view our food and nutrition position statements

For further information, please call our Helpline on 13 11 12.

Media enquiries

Debora McInnes, Senior National Media Advisor - Nutrition
M: 0423 827 697 E: debora.mcinnes@heartfoundation.org.au

Fleur Jacobs, Senior National Media Advisor
M: 0427 591 638 E: fleur.jacobs@heartfoundation.org.au