Can Dairy Be Part of a Heart-Healthy Diet?

The short answer is “absolutely!” 

 

You don’t have to give up delicious dairy foods in the name of heart health. In fact, countless studies and decades of research link dairy foods – like milk, cheese and yogurt – with numerous health benefits, including benefits for your heart. 

 

Following the DASH Diet Can Help Protect Your Heart

Did you know that nearly half of all adults in the United States have high blood pressure? That’s 1 in every 2 people. And only about 25% of those with high blood pressure – also called hypertension – have it under control. What’s more frightening? High blood pressure can lead to many serious health problems, including stroke and heart attack.

 

The good news: A nutritious diet is one way to control blood pressure. Specifically, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. This diet is a research-backed healthy eating plan recommended by health professionals for people interested in heart health. Research has shown that the DASH diet, in combination with watching salt intake, may be just as effective as some medications at lowering blood pressure. This diet has also been associated with improvements in blood cholesterol – another component of maintaining a healthy heart.

 

Dairy Foods and Blood Pressure

Studies have shown a beneficial relationship between dairy foods and blood pressure because of the nutrients dairy foods provide. The DASH diet puts an emphasis on dairy foods, fruits, vegetables and whole grains to deliver calcium, potassium, magnesium, fiber and protein – key nutrients for healthy blood pressure and a healthy heart. Dairy foods provide four of those heart healthy nutrients (hint: all but fiber), in addition to nine other essential nutrients associated with various health benefits.

 

Low-Fat or Whole Fat Dairy Foods – The Choice Is Yours

While the original DASH diet (now nearly 20 years old) encouraged low-fat and fat-free dairy foods, more recent research has shown that the DASH eating plan can be modified to include whole milk, yogurt and cheese without sacrificing health benefits. Researchers saw similar blood pressure–lowering benefits in the participants enjoying whole milk dairy foods as those eating low-fat and fat-free dairy foods as part of their DASH diet – the full-fat dairy consumers also saw reductions in triglycerides. The key lies in staying within personal calorie limits.

 

Studies have shown that people who regularly enjoy milk, cheese and yogurt have a lower risk of both heart disease and stroke – so aim for the recommended three servings of dairy foods daily, along with a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats. 

 

Need recipe inspiration? We’ve got you covered! Check out this DASH Diet recipe roundup.

 

By Jenna Allen, MS, RDN

Jenna is a registered dietitian with a passion for communicating science in an approachable way. She has been part of the Dairy MAX team since 2008. When she isn't working, Jenna is trying out new recipes with her three kids and working on her food photography. Learn more about Jenna.

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