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Full-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese are among a range of foods that should now be considered healthy options by Australians following updated eating guidelines released today by the Heart Foundation.

But the consumption of red meat needs a rethink, with evidence showing it increases the risk of heart disease and stroke and can lead to weight gain.

The Heart Foundation’s updated healthy eating advice, based on a review of the latest research, has introduced a limit of less than 350 grams a week for unprocessed beef, lamb, pork and veal, or about one to three lean red-meat meals per week.

“Processed or deli meats should be limited as they have been consistently linked to a higher risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions,” Heart Foundation Chief Medical Advisor, cardiologist Professor Garry Jennings said.

“Instead, we suggest people should get most of their heart-healthy protein from plant sources such as beans, lentils (legumes) and tofu, as well as fish and seafood, with a smaller amount from eggs and lean poultry. Heart-healthy eating is more about a combination of foods, eaten regularly over time.”

Professor Jennings said restrictions on Australians eating full-fat milk, cheese and yoghurt have been removed, with new evidence showing this type of dairy was found to have a neutral effect, neither increasing or decreasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.

When it comes to eggs, the new guidelines warn people who suffer high cholesterol or heart disease should eat less than seven eggs per week and also consume unflavoured low-fat milk, yoghurt and cheese.

Importantly, Australians are being encouraged to stay clear of butter, cream, ice-cream and dairy-based desserts as they contain higher fat and sugar levels and less protein.

However, evidence found the dairy fat in milk, cheese and yoghurt does not raise bad LDL cholesterol levels as much as butter and other dairy products.

“We now advise people with Type 2 diabetes to eat fewer than seven eggs per week, as growing evidence suggests an increased risk with eating more eggs,” Professor Jennings said.

“Type 2 diabetes, along with high cholesterol and high blood pressure, are risks for heart disease and stroke that we can take steps to avoid through diet and lifestyle changes.”

Evidence shows poor diet is the leading contributor to heart disease, accounting for 65.5% of the total burden of disease.

However, Australians could reduce their risk of cardiovascular diseases by about 16% and save $1.4 billion in health spending by eating the recommended daily intake of vegetables.

Heart Foundation Director of Prevention, Julie Anne Mitchell, said healthy eating advice should reflect new evidence.

“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,” Ms Mitchell said.

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

“The increase in availability and promotion of highly processed foods at the expense of healthy foods has meant that too many Australian adults get more than a third of their total daily energy from high-kilojoule, nutrient-poor junk foods like cakes, muffins, pastries, alcohol and soft drinks.”

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