Full-fat dairy can safely return to your shopping list but you might want to think about cutting back on red meat.
That's according to the Heart Foundation, which earlier this week updated its guidelines of what to eat to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.
For the first time, the health body put a specific limit on the amount of red meat Australians should consume: no more than three lean meals (totalling 350 grams) of unprocessed beef, pork, lamb or veal a week.
It's also important to limit our intake of processed or deli meats, according to Heart Foundation chief medical advisor Garry Jennings.
"People should 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," he said.
The limit on eggs, however, has been lifted: they contain good quality protein and are a source of healthy fats. But if you have cardiovascular disease or diabetes, no more than seven a week is recommended.
Similarly, full-fat (but unflavoured) dairy is no longer off the cards — unless you suffer high cholesterol or heart disease.
"There is not enough evidence to support a restriction on full-fat milk, yogurt and cheese for a healthy person, as they also provide healthy nutrients like calcium," Professor Jennings said.
But that doesn't apply to all dairy.
"Butter, cream, ice-cream and dairy-based desserts are not recommended as heart-healthy as they contain higher fat and sugar levels and less protein."
Prioritising plant-based foods
The Heart Foundation recommends Australians eat more plant-based foods, including a variety of vegetables, fruits and wholegrains.
It encourages the consumption of good fats such as nuts, seeds, avocado and olive oil, and says herbs and spices should be used to season food instead of salt.
"This style of eating is naturally low in saturated and trans fats, salt and added sugar, and rich in unsaturated fats, along with wholegrains, fibre and antioxidants," a Heart Foundation spokesperson said.
The health body developed the revised guidelines after looking for common features in the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets.
Heart Foundation director of prevention Julie Anne Mitchell said the new advice reflected the latest scientific evidence.
"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.
"What matters now is the combination of healthy foods and how regularly people eat them," she said.
So what exactly should this combination look like?
Balancing the five food groups
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend we eat a variety of foods from across the five food groups:
- Vegetables of different types and colours (including legumes/beans)
- Fruit — from citrus and stone fruit to berries and others
- Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal-fibre varieties, such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley
- Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans
- Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their dairy-free alternatives
"By eating the recommended amounts from the five food groups ... you get enough of the nutrients essential for good health," the guidelines state.
The amount of food you need from each food group depends on your age, sex, height, weight and physical activity levels. It also changes if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
It's possible to calculate your daily energy needs and nutrient requirements.
But as a guide, adults are recommended to eat:
- At least five serves of vegetables every day. A serve is half a cup of cooked vegetables or a cup of salad.
- At least two serves of fruit every day. A serve is one medium piece of fruit (e.g. an apple or banana) or two small pieces (e.g. apricots or kiwi fruits).
- Two serves of milk, yogurt, cheese (or alternatives) every day. A serve is one cup of milk or two slices of cheese.
- Five to six serves of grains — mostly wholegrain. A serve is one slice of wholemeal bread or half a cup of cooked rice.
- Two to three serves of lean meat, fish, eggs, tofu or legumes/beans. A serve is a can of tuna or two eggs.
The Heart Foundation suggests a healthy plate would be made up of 50 per cent vegetables and fruits and around 25 per cent wholegrains, with the rest coming from healthy proteins like fish, seafood, legumes, nuts, seeds, dairy foods and healthy oils.
Limiting saturated fat, added salt and sugars
In addition to focusing on healthy foods, it's equally important to limit your intake of foods high in saturated fat, added sugars and added salt.
That includes biscuits, cakes, pastries, lollies, pies, processed meats, fried foods, potato chips and other savoury snacks.
In Australia, it's estimated 35 per cent of adults' average daily energy intake comes from highly processed foods, and for children, it's even higher — 41 per cent.
"This dietary imbalance means current Australian eating patterns are a leading risk factor for death and disability in Australia," a Heart Foundation spokesperson said.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend swapping out discretionary foods for items in the five food groups, and limiting portion size.
They also recommend replacing high-fat foods which contain mostly saturated fats (such as butter and cream) with foods that contain mostly polyunsaturated or monosaturated fats (such as oils, nut butters and avocado).
When it comes to staying hydrated, it's important to drink plenty of water, and limit drinks with added sugars, such as soft drinks, cordial, energy drinks and vitamin waters.
And if you choose to drink alcohol, no more than two standard drinks per day is recommended to cut your lifetime risk of harm.