I am
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....

5 Ingredient Recipes Booklet

5 Ingredient Recipes Booklet

5 Ingredient Recipes Booklet

A collection of quick and delicious heart healthy recipes. Get your booklet 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....

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....

Cook with Heart

Cook with Heart

Cook with Heart

Join the Cook with Heart Challenge as seen on Channel 7...

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....

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....

Nutrition action plan

Nutrition action plan

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....

Should you be cooking with coconut oil?

Should you be cooking with coconut oil?

Should you be cooking with coconut oil?

25 June 2018...

Sodium and salt converter

Sodium and salt converter

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

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. ...

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....

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. ...

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....

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?...

You’ll love our heart-healthy winter recipes

You’ll love our heart-healthy winter recipes

You’ll love our heart-healthy winter recipes

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....

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. ...

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....

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 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....

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. ...

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.  ...

Clinical Guidelines

Clinical Guidelines

Clinical Guidelines

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

Heart Age Calculator

Heart Age Calculator

Heart Age Calculator

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

Support and resources for health care professionals

Support and resources for health care professionals

Support and resources for health care professionals

Our range of clinical and patient support resources are available for you to use in your daily practice....

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Join the Heart Foundation community. Together, we can make a real difference for Australian hearts. ...

Heart procedures and devices

Heart procedures and devices

Heart procedures and devices

If you have a heart condition, your doctor may recommend treatment or procedures...

Absolute CVD risk assessment practical update webinar

Absolute CVD risk assessment practical update webinar

A multidisciplinary panel of experts discuss the practical application of absolute CVD risk assessment through Heart Health Checks....

Heart failure diagnosis and care webinar

Heart failure diagnosis and care webinar

Improving diagnosis and care for heart failure patients....

Applying for research funding with the Heart Foundation

Applying for research funding with the Heart Foundation

Applying for research funding with the Heart Foundation

Discover more about our various funding programs, requirements, and application dates now....

Supporting local Councils in South Australia

Supporting local Councils in South Australia

Supporting local Councils in South Australia

Resources to help support your council region to be healthy, connected and safe....

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...

Kids recipes

Kids recipes

Kids recipes

Find heart healthy kids recipes...

Blood cholesterol

Blood cholesterol

Blood cholesterol

Keeping your blood cholesterol at a healthy level can help you reduce your risk of heart disease and other serious conditions. ...

For professionals: Heart Health Checks

For professionals: Heart Health Checks

Heart Health Checks have been supported by Medicare since April 2019....

Research funding programs

Research funding programs

Research funding programs

Our research funding supports outstanding researchers who share our vision of an Australia free from heart disease. ...

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....

Cyril credits cardiac rehab for getting his life back

Cyril credits cardiac rehab for getting his life back

Cyril credits cardiac rehab for getting his life back

Cyril suffered a heart attack in 2015. Cardiac rehab helped get his life back on track. ...

Food and nutrition position statements

Food and nutrition position statements

Food and nutrition position statements

A quick guide to the evidence behind the Heart Foundation’s new dietary guidelines....

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. ...

Supporting Your Emotional Wellbeing: An Online Forum for Young Heart Patients

Supporting Your Emotional Wellbeing: An Online Forum for Young Heart Patients

Supporting Your Emotional Wellbeing: An Online Forum for Young Heart Patients

Lessons learned: recovering from open heart surgery

Lessons learned: recovering from open heart surgery

Lessons learned: recovering from open heart surgery

After having five open heart surgeries between the ages of 13 and 41, Peter knows a thing or two about recovery....

What is an arrhythmia?

What is an arrhythmia?

What is an arrhythmia?

Arrhythmia is a fault in the heart’s electrical system, which affects your heart’s pumping rhythm....

Types of physical activity

Types of physical activity

Types of physical activity

Nine out of 10 Australians could reduce the risk of heart disease by walking as little as 15 minutes more each day....

Gerry had heart attack warning signs on his dream holiday.

Gerry had heart attack warning signs on his dream holiday.

Gerry had heart attack warning signs on his dream holiday.

I’d always thought of myself as fairly fit; I swam a lot, and did ‘soft running’, a combination of running and walking. ...

Confidential. Personal. Reliable.

Confidential. Personal. Reliable.

Confidential. Personal. Reliable.

Got a question about your heart?...

Encouraging cardiovascular research excellence in South Australia

Encouraging cardiovascular research excellence in South Australia

Encouraging cardiovascular research excellence in South Australia

Kylie defied the heart attack stereotypes

Kylie defied the heart attack stereotypes

Kylie defied the heart attack stereotypes

Cardiac rehabilitation was a turning point for Kylie and essential to her heart failure recovery....

Nutrition after a heart attack

Nutrition after a heart attack

Nutrition after a heart attack

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