The new diet advice for a healthy heart

Cheese, eggs and full-fat milk are in, but red meat is out – the Heart Foundation’s revamped rules for what you should and shouldn’t eat contain a few surprises.

Following a review of the latest dietary evidence, the Heart Foundation has made its first major revision to its dietary statement since 2013.

“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,” says Heart Foundation director of prevention Julie Anne Mitchell.

“What matters now is the combination of healthy foods and how regularly people eat them.”

A new take on dairy products

Among the revisions, the Heart Foundation has removed its restriction on full-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese.

That change in stance is because those foods have been found to neither increase nor decrease the risk of heart disease or stroke in a healthy person.

“We believe there is not enough evidence to support a restriction on full-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese for a healthy person, as they also provide healthy nutrients like calcium,” says Heart Foundation chief medical adviser and cardiologist Professor Garry Jennings.

But Prof Jennings stresses that the relaxed guidelines apply to healthy people, and not those with high cholesterol, heart disease or Type 2 diabetes.

“For people who suffer high cholesterol or heart disease, we recommend unflavoured reduced-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese and eating less than seven eggs per week,” he says.

“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.”

Red meat is on the chopping block too

The revamped guidelines also recommend eating less red meat, with evidence that it increases heart disease and stroke as well as weight gain.

“We have introduced a limit of less than 350g 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,” says Prof Jennings.

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

“Instead, we suggest people get most of their heart-healthy protein from plant sources such as beans, lentils and tofu, as well as fish and seafood, with a smaller amount from eggs and lean poultry.”

Dietary experts respond to Heart Foundation’s new guidelines

Dietitians Association of Australia president and dietitian Phil Juffs welcomes the Heart Foundation’s revised policy and focus on variety in our diets and wholefoods.

“At the end of the day, we don’t eat nutrients, we eat foods and a major factor behind our current obesity epidemic is the fact that Australians are not consuming enough whole foods, so it’s great that the Heart Foundation are shifting the focus from nutrients to whole foods and healthy eating patterns,” says Phil.

The revised statement has reignited calls for a national nutrition policy, which hasn’t been in effect in Australia since 1992.

The Dietitians Association of Australia has called on the Australian Government to fund a review of the Australian dietary guidelines as part of a new National Nutrition Policy.

“This update by the Heart Foundation emphasises the need to make a National Nutrition Policy a priority, ensuring our nutrition guidelines are providing Australians with the most up-to-date, population-based, dietary advice,” says Phil.

Key things to remember

Under its new guidelines, the Heart Foundation says:

  • Full-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese are OK for healthy people.
  • People with high cholesterol, heart disease or Type 2 diabetes should consume unflavoured reduced-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese and less than seven eggs a week.
  • Eat less than 350g a week of unprocessed beef, lamb, pork and veal.
  • Limit processed or deli meats.
  • Get most heart-healthy protein from beans, lentils, tofu, fish and seafood.
  • Get smaller amounts of protein from eggs and lean poultry.

Written by Charlotte Brundrett.