Decoding the Dairy Aisle: 6 Heart-Healthier Tips

Rich in bone-strengthening calcium and containing potassium, dairy helps maintain healthy blood pressure levels already within normal limits. Combined with a low-sodium diet and muscle-building protein, dairy products are important to a balanced diet. The USDA, in fact, recommends children get at least two cups’ worth each day; adults need three cups. But not all types of dairy are created equal: Some are laden with fats and calories. So when to indulge and when to go fat-free? We’ve got the answers. Just use our stress-free guide to navigating the dairy aisle:

It does a body good, yes—it’s even fortified with Vitamin D—but an 8-ounce cup of whole milk has 149 calories and 8 grams of fat, 5 grams of which are saturated. That’s roughly a quarter of your daily saturated fat requirement. 2% milk doesn’t fare that much better: One cup has 3 grams of saturated fat, which is about 15 percent of your daily total. That’s probably more than you thought, right? So as much as you can, pour fat-free varieties. For those who miss the creaminess of whole or 2% milk, Smart Balance® milks are infused with dry milk solids so they taste like their fuller-bodied counterpart. Plus, they contain essential Omega-3s. If you really can’t live without your full-fat milk, try the Smart Balance® Low Fat Milk and Omega-3s, which tastes like whole milk, or just try to use your fuller-fat milks sparingly, counsels Smart Balance dietitian Tammi Hancock, R.D. Add a splash in your coffee, or in healthy recipes that call for a tablespoon or two of milk.

A little goes a long way toward your USDA recommended daily dairy requirements: A tablespoon of regular hard cheese—parmesan, for instance—equals a quarter-cup serving of dairy, while a half-cup of cottage cheese amounts to about a quarter-cup serving. Delicious as it is, cheese does tend to be higher in fat and calories than many other dairy products, so do keep an eye on your portions overall.

With so many options, experts often recommend going the nonfat or lower-fat route when it comes to yogurt. It’s important to make sure your preferred brand’s not excessively sweetened; if the ingredients include fructose, sucrose or corn syrup, that means extra sugar has been added, which may be great for the taste buds but not for the waistline. Another tip: Greek yogurt’s higher in protein than traditional yogurts, which makes it more satisfying.

You can take some nutritional pressure off by skipping old-fashioned (fat-laden) butter and choosing butter alternatives such as Smart Balance® Buttery Spreads, which have a patented blend of vegetable oils that provide a rich, buttery taste with less fat and fewer calories. Or Smart Balance® Spreadable Butters and Smart Balance® Blended Butter Sticks, both made with naturally sourced plant sterols which helps to block the absorption of the cholesterol in the butter.

They’re not exactly dairy, but they do live in the dairy aisle. Eggs are high in dietary cholesterol, but eating up to 1 egg per day is unlikely to have a substantial overall impact on heart health among healthy men and women, according to a landmark study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Want a bigger serving? Scramble a batch of egg whites with one whole egg.

Freezer aisle detour: Ice cream, frozen yogurt and other treats
No question: There’s nothing like a scoop of these cold, sweet treats on a hot day. Frozen yogurts tend to be lower in fat, but sometimes, nothing else but the real deal will do. If so, go for single-serving cups and popsicles that will limit portions, suggests New Orleans sports and lifestyle nutritionist Molly Kimball, R.D. Puddings and other similar milk-based desserts are better in low- or nonfat incarnations, but they’re often chock-full of sugar, so let the nutrition labels be your guide.

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