Show me:
Show me:
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....

Tasty recipes to start the day | Breakfast Recipe Booklet

Tasty recipes to start the day | Breakfast Recipe Booklet

Tasty recipes to start the day | Breakfast Recipe Booklet

Have an easy and delicious start to your day. Get your free copy now....

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....

Chimichurri sauce

Chimichurri sauce

Chimichurri sauce

5 minutes

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....

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. ...

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....

Time to book a Heart Health Check?

Time to book a Heart Health Check?

Time to book a Heart Health Check?

If you're 45 and over, or 30 and over if you're of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, you should book your Heart Health Check today...

Together, we can change the future of heart disease

Together, we can change the future of heart disease

Together, we can change the future of heart disease

The power of your ongoing support can help save lives and keep more families together. Help us continue to fund promising heart research projects by donating today. ...

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Health Professional Tools

Health Professional Tools

Health Professional Tools

Guidelines, publications and support for the health professional community....

Research Directory

Research Directory

My health for life program

My health for life program

My health for life program

The Heart Foundation is a proud supporter of the Queensland My health for life program...

Salad recipes

Salad recipes

Salad recipes

Search through our tasty salad recipes...

Create your fundraiser at Do it for Heart

Create your fundraiser at Do it for Heart

Create your fundraiser at Do it for Heart

Become a Heart Foundation fundraiser, do it for heart and make a real difference to your community....

Do you have a Heart Story to share?

Do you have a Heart Story to share?

Do you have a Heart Story to share?

Sharing your story could help another Australian just like you to overcome their heart challenges...

Join Kate in making a difference to future generations

Join Kate in making a difference to future generations

Join Kate in making a difference to future generations

Kate wanted to find a way she could make a difference to future generations...

Sweet potato breakfast hash

Sweet potato breakfast hash

Sweet potato breakfast hash

15 minutes
Serves 2

Heart Foundation Research Award Recipients

Heart Foundation Research Award Recipients

Explore our research award recipients and projects...

Western Australian Cardiovascular Research Alliance

Western Australian Cardiovascular Research Alliance

Western Australian Cardiovascular Research Alliance

WACRA are the peak leadership body in Western Australian advancing research into heart, stroke and vascular disease to accelerate translation and improve health outcomes....

Improving donor heart preservation - pushing the limits to increase hearts destined for transplant

Improving donor heart preservation - pushing the limits to increase hearts destined for transplant

Dr Yashutosh Joshi, Institution: University of New South Wales...

Mexican spice blend

Mexican spice blend

Mexican spice blend

5 minutes

Tex Mex chicken burgers

Tex Mex chicken burgers

Tex Mex chicken burgers

10 minutes
Serves 2

What is angina?

What is angina?

What is angina?

Angina is a type of chest pain or discomfort that’s a symptom of an underlying heart problem, usually coronary heart disease (CHD)....

Q&A with Professor Kerry-Anne Rye

Q&A with Professor Kerry-Anne Rye

Q&A with Professor Kerry-Anne Rye

A new way to keep people who have had a heart attack healthy...

Understanding heart attacks caused by spontaneous coronary artery dissection

Understanding heart attacks caused by spontaneous coronary artery dissection

Dr Lucy McGrath-Cadell, Institution: University of New South Wales...

Cardiac Rehabilitation Advocacy

Cardiac Rehabilitation Advocacy

Women and heart disease

Women and heart disease

Women and heart disease

Information on women and heart disease for consumers....

WEBINAR | Heart Health Checks: the critical role of the practice nurse

WEBINAR | Heart Health Checks: the critical role of the practice nurse

WEBINAR | Heart Health Checks: the critical role of the practice nurse

This webinar discusses the role of practice nurses in conducting heart health checks...

Salmon primavera spaghetti

Salmon primavera spaghetti

Salmon primavera spaghetti

15 minutes
Serves 2

Chilli and garlic prawn spaghetti

Chilli and garlic prawn spaghetti

Chilli and garlic prawn spaghetti

15 minutes
Serves 4

For professionals: Guidelines for acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease

For professionals: Guidelines for acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease

Australian  guidelines  for  prevention, diagnosis and  management of  acute  rheumatic  fever and  rheumatic  heart  disease ...

Apricot & pecan muffin bars

Apricot & pecan muffin bars

Apricot & pecan muffin bars

30 minutes
Serves 8

Baking recipes

Baking recipes

Baking recipes

Find heart healthy baking recipes ...

Women's Health Week: Put your heart and mind first

Women's Health Week: Put your heart and mind first

Women's Health Week: Put your heart and mind first

Vegetarian lasagne

Vegetarian lasagne

Vegetarian lasagne

1 hour
Serves 6

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. ...