Dairy and your heart health
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

Dairy and your heart health

Not all dairy products are equal. Discover different types of dairy foods and their impact on heart health.

Key takeaways

  • Unflavoured milk, yoghurt and cheese can be a part of a heart-healthy diet. 
  • Reduced-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese are better options for people with heart disease or high cholesterol. 
  • ​Butter, cream and ice cream are not part of a heart-healthy diet. 
  • Unflavoured milk, yoghurt and cheese are ‘neutral’ for heart health. 
The dairy food group includes milk, yoghurt and cheese, which can be good sources of calcium, protein, vitamins and minerals. However, they can also contain unhealthy fats such as saturated and ruminant trans fats.

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

Is dairy good for your heart? 

Research into dairy has returned complex results. Overall milk, yoghurt and cheese have a ‘neutral’ effect on your heart health, meaning these foods don’t increase or decrease the risk of heart disease.     

The complexity stems from the fact that dairy foods contain saturated and ruminant trans fats, which can increase LDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is commonly known as bad cholesterol, as it can increase the risk of heart disease.  

However, the rise in cholesterol depends on the person and what type of dairy product is consumed.  

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

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

How many servings of dairy a day should you have?

As milk, yoghurt and cheese are considered ‘neutral’ for heart health, these foods can form part of a heart-healthy diet. However, you can also have a heart-healthy diet without them.  

Research doesn’t indicate a minimum or maximum portion size or amount of servings. However, the Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend eating between 2-4 serves of milk, yoghurt and cheese a day to make sure you get enough 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 

Some studies have shown that reduced-fat milk, yoghurt, and cheese are healthier; others show the full-fat options as healthier, and others again show no difference between the two.  

The Heart Foundation recommends reduced-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese for people with heart disease or high cholesterol because the fat in dairy products can raise cholesterol levels more for these groups of people. 

However, without enough evidence to say one is better than the other, healthy Australians can take their pick between full-fat or reduced-fat milk, yoghurt, and cheese products. 

What about butter? 

Research shows that butter raises both good and bad cholesterol, with the increase in bad cholesterol overshadowing the rise in good cholesterol. Butter affects people who already have high cholesterol by raising their levels even higher.  

Without evidence to show that butter is good for heart health, The Heart Foundation recommends healthier options. The following make deliciously healthy substitutes: 

  • Olive oil 
  • Avocado 
  • Nut butters 
  • Spreads made with healthier oils, such as olive oil. 

Is ice cream bad for your heart? 

Ice cream, cream and dairy desserts are not part of a heart-healthy diet because they have more sugar and fat, and less protein, vitamins and minerals than other dairy foods.  

The Heart Foundation recommends they should be eaten only sometimes and in small amounts. 

What about dairy alternatives? 

Eating dairy is a personal choice. Some people can’t have dairy foods because of allergies or intolerances. Some people choose not to for individual or health reasons.  

Eating dairy isn’t essential to maintain a heart-healthy diet, but without it, other calcium-rich alternatives should be eaten.  

The best option for dairy-alternative milk – such as soy, almond, oat or rice milk – is one with added calcium and no added sugar. 

A variety of non-dairy foods contain calcium, such as: 

  • Fish with bones 
  • Almonds 
  • Tofu. 

Healthy dairy food options 

Examples of healthy dairy food options include: 

  • Eat unflavoured yoghurt, which can make a great snack or breakfast option. Add fruit or nuts and seeds for extra flavour. 
  • Swap butter for healthier alternatives, such as avocado, olive oil, or oil spreads. 
  • Try cottage or ricotta cheese on wholegrain crackers as a snack. 

Dairy and a heart-healthy diet 

A heart-healthy diet can include dairy, but it’s not essential. While unflavoured milk, yoghurt and cheese have been proven to be ‘neutral’ to heart health, reduced-fat options are the best choice for anyone with heart disease or high cholesterol. 

Butter, cream and ice cream are not part of a heart-healthy diet and should only be eaten sometimes and in small amounts. 


Browse our range of heart healthy recipes

You might also be interested in

Five foods to help lower blood pressure

Five foods to help lower blood pressure

Five foods to help lower blood pressure

One the easiest steps you can take to prevent high blood pressure is choosing healthy foods....

Heart Healthy Dinner Plan

Heart Healthy Dinner Plan

Heart Healthy Dinner Plan

Sign up now and discover delicious, easy to follow dinner recipes. Plus shopping lists, tips and other helpful information to make healthy eating easy. ...

10 ways to get the right balance of fats 

10 ways to get the right balance of fats 

10 ways to get the right balance of fats 

Getting the right balance of fats in your diet can improve your heart health....

Heart Foundation recipes

Heart Foundation recipes

Heart Foundation recipes

Search all of our heart healthy recipes ...

Key healthy eating messages for heart attack recovery 

Key healthy eating messages for heart attack recovery 

Key healthy eating messages for heart attack recovery 

Eating healthy foods can help you recover and reduce your risk of more heart problems. ...

Five ways to lower cholesterol

Five ways to lower cholesterol

Five ways to lower cholesterol

Lower your cholesterol, whether you're eating breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert or even a snack....

Nutrition action plan

Nutrition action plan

Fats, oils and heart health

Fats, oils and heart health

Fats, oils and heart health

Get the right balance of healthy fats in your diet ...

Heart Foundation recipes

Heart Foundation recipes

Heart Foundation recipes

Check out our recipe categories to find your next heart healthy meal....

Nutrition after a heart attack

Nutrition after a heart attack

Nutrition after a heart attack

Discover key information on heart-healthy eating and drinking....

How can I beat the barriers and get active for a healthy heart?

How can I beat the barriers and get active for a healthy heart?

How can I beat the barriers and get active for a healthy heart?

Sodium and salt converter

Sodium and salt converter

Convert the sodium listed on food products into grams of salt or vice versa. ...

Reading food labels

Reading food labels

Reading food labels

Nutrition information panels and ingredients lists are a good way of comparing similar foods so you can choose the healthiest option....

How can I set and achieve goals to improve my heart health?

How can I set and achieve goals to improve my heart health?

How can I set and achieve goals to improve my heart health?

Question of the month blog...

Fruit, vegetables and heart health

Fruit, vegetables and heart health

Fruit, vegetables and heart health

How to boost your fruit and vegetable intake to help protect your heart. ...

New diet recommendations matter to your heart

New diet recommendations matter to your heart

New diet recommendations matter to your heart

Heart-healthy eating is not about one specific food or nutrient; it’s about regularly eating a variety of healthy foods over time....

What is a healthy body weight?

What is a healthy body weight?

What is a healthy body weight?

Find out what a healthy body weight is and the steps you can take to achieve it. ...

Should you be cooking with coconut oil?

Should you be cooking with coconut oil?

Should you be cooking with coconut oil?

25 June 2018...

Healthy eating to protect your heart

Healthy eating to protect your heart

Healthy eating to protect your heart

What does a heart-friendly diet look like?...

Sorting fat from fiction

Sorting fat from fiction

Sorting fat from fiction

It seems when healthy eating is the subject, everyone wants to talk about fat. It can be a confusing and polarising topic....

9 food and heart health myths, busted

9 food and heart health myths, busted

9 food and heart health myths, busted

Let’s dive into nine common food and health myths and the facts behind them....

Spring back to heart-healthy eating with these delicious tips

Spring back to heart-healthy eating with these delicious tips

Spring back to heart-healthy eating with these delicious tips

With spring sprung, now is the time to get back to heart-healthy eating. ...

Heart-healthy drinks

Heart-healthy drinks

Heart-healthy drinks

While water is clearly the most heart-healthy drink, there are ther drinks that can be enjoyed in moderation. ...

Why are you playing this game? It’s putting your heart at risk.

Why are you playing this game? It’s putting your heart at risk.

Why are you playing this game? It’s putting your heart at risk.

The game is “hide and seek”. You play it without even realising. The shock is that when you play this game, you could be placing your heart health at risk....

How to make healthier meals at home

How to make healthier meals at home

How to make healthier meals at home

Cooking at home is often healthier than eating out....

You’ll love our heart-healthy winter recipes

You’ll love our heart-healthy winter recipes

You’ll love our heart-healthy winter recipes

Protein and heart health

Protein and heart health

Protein and heart health

What are the best sources of protein when it come to your heart health...

Is salt bad for your heart?

Is salt bad for your heart?

Is salt bad for your heart?

Most Australians are eating more than the recommended amounts and this can cause health problems....

What waist measurements mean for your heart

What waist measurements mean for your heart

What waist measurements mean for your heart

How your waist measurement contributes to your heart health...

Wholegrains and heart health

Wholegrains and heart health

Wholegrains and heart health

All you need to know about wholegrains to put you on the right track...

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Support us and help save Australian hearts

Support us and help save Australian hearts

Support us and help save Australian hearts

Join the fight against Australia’s biggest killer by supporting the Heart Foundation.  ...

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Join our community of fundraisers who are committed to taking action to fight heart disease....

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation programs and resources to support your recovery....

Aboriginal heart health

Aboriginal heart health

Aboriginal heart health

Visit the St Vincents Hospital NSW and Heart Foundation Aboriginal heart health website for more information...

Are you at risk of heart disease?

Are you at risk of heart disease?

Are you at risk of heart disease?

There is no single cause for any one heart condition, but there are risk factors that increase your chance of developing one. ...

How we fought heart disease in 2020

How we fought heart disease in 2020

How we fought heart disease in 2020

Everything we do is possible thanks to the generosity of our supporters. ...

Leaving a gift in your Will: A lasting legacy

Leaving a gift in your Will: A lasting legacy

Leaving a gift in your Will: A lasting legacy

One of the most powerful ways to help support a future without heart disease is to include a gift to the Heart Foundation in your Will...

Heart Age Calculator

Heart Age Calculator

Heart Age Calculator

Try our Heart Age Calculator to understand what contributes to your risk of heart disease....

Spring back to heart-healthy eating with these delicious tips

Spring back to heart-healthy eating with these delicious tips

Spring back to heart-healthy eating with these delicious tips

With spring sprung, now is the time to get back to heart-healthy eating. ...

MyMarathon

MyMarathon

MyMarathon

The fundraising race where you set the pace. Run, jog or walk MyMarathon at your own pace during October....

From diagnosis at 37 to heart surgery, rehab and now

From diagnosis at 37 to heart surgery, rehab and now

From diagnosis at 37 to heart surgery, rehab and now

Claude Lam, Open heart surgery survivor...

Food and nutrition position statements

Food and nutrition position statements

Food and nutrition position statements

Smart Heart Guidelines App

Smart Heart Guidelines App

Smart Heart Guidelines App

Access to Australian heart disease guidelines is now free at your fingertips...

Heart attack recovery – your first month

Heart attack recovery – your first month

Heart attack recovery – your first month

Explore the Heart Foundation’s guide on what to expect in the first month after your heart attack. ...

How your heart works

How your heart works

How your heart works

Your heart is a muscle that pumps blood to all parts of your body. The blood gives your body the oxygen and nourishment it needs to work properly. ...

Physical activity in the workplace

Physical activity in the workplace

Physical activity in the workplace

Resources to help you create a more physically active workplace....

Advocating for healthy hearts throughout Australia

Advocating for healthy hearts throughout Australia

We're addressing the disparities in heart health so all Australians can live longer, healthier lives....

Food and healthy eating during COVID-19

Food and healthy eating during COVID-19

Food and healthy eating during COVID-19

Healthy eating and COVID-19 FAQ...

Register your cardiac service with the Heart Foundation

Register your cardiac service with the Heart Foundation

This cardiac services directory presents information on cardiac rehab programs offered across Australia....

Aussie men among the world’s most obese, new data

Aussie men among the world’s most obese, new data

Aussie men among the world’s most obese, new data

Media Release - 16 November 2020...

Cardiac arrest at 26: adjusting to a new ‘normal’

Cardiac arrest at 26: adjusting to a new ‘normal’

Cardiac arrest at 26: adjusting to a new ‘normal’

Clinical Guidelines

Clinical Guidelines

Clinical Guidelines

Full list of clinical guidlines and references for CVD, heart failure, ACS, hypertension, atrial fibrillation, SCAD and RHD...

Getting active at school

Getting active at school

Getting active at school

Physical activity resources for school staff....

Vegetarian recipes

Vegetarian recipes

Vegetarian recipes

Search through our vegetarian recipes...

Driving and travelling after a heart attack

Driving and travelling after a heart attack

Driving and travelling after a heart attack

Explore our guide for driving and heart attack recovery. ...

Coronary Artery Calcium Score

Coronary Artery Calcium Score

A Coronary Artery Calcium Score or CT Calcium test can be used to estimate your risk of heart attack or stroke....

Women and heart disease

Women and heart disease

Women and heart disease

Every day, 22 women lose their lives to this condition....

David’s shock heart failure diagnosis was just the start of a tough journey

David’s shock heart failure diagnosis was just the start of a tough journey

David’s shock heart failure diagnosis was just the start of a tough journey

David's heart failure diagnosis led to significant changes in his life....

Heart Foundation Tick

Heart Foundation Tick

Heart Foundation Tick

The Tick Program has made a substantial contribution to the health of Australians over the past 26 years....