Heart disease takes a huge toll in the United States. In fact, it claims the life of 1 in 4 adults every year. That means many people, maybe including you and family members, are looking for ways to take control of their health and manage their own risk for this condition.

Dairy and a Heart-Smart Diet

The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the American Heart Association, and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet all recommend that you fill your plate with a variety of nutritious choices. Dairy foods, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy oils can all be part of a heart-healthy diet.

Dairy foods such as milk and cheese are rich in essential vitamins and minerals, including calcium and potassium, that helps to naturally regulate blood pressure. They’re also one of the best sources of vitamin D, which plays a role in blood pressure control. Many of our diets don’t provide enough vitamin D, because there’s a limited number of foods that contain it.

To reap the heart-health benefits of dairy, include at least 3 servings each day. One serving of these dairy products equals:

cottage cheese 1 1/4 cups
milk 1 cup
yogurt 1 cup
ricotta cheese 1/2 cup
shredded cheese 1/3 cup
hard cheese 1 ½ ounces

Dairy and Heart Disease Risk

Over the years, you may have heard various recommendations about the role dairy foods play in a healthy diet—and how they may impact your risk for chronic disease, particularly heart disease. New research has changed some advice, so here’s a look at where science currently stands.

An extensive body of research shows that consumption of dairy foods is not linked to an increased risk for heart disease or coronary artery disease. In fact, eating dairy foods has actually been seen to be linked to a reduced risk for stroke, because of dairy’s role in lowering blood pressure and reducing stiffness in the arteries.

When it comes to full- or reduced-fat varieties of dairy products, a growing body of scientific evidence shows saturated fat from whole-fat dairy foods and/or cheese is not associated with an increase in LDL (bad) cholesterol and heart disease as once thought. Check out the full Science Brief for an in-depth look at the research.

The Bottom Line

In the past, experts advised people to primarily choose fat-free and low-fat dairy as part of a heart-smart diet. But new and ongoing research shows that a variety of dairy foods, including whole and reduced-fat options, can play a positive role in supporting overall health. Connect with an expert Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to develop a personalized eating plan for you.