Protein is a macronutrient that breaks down into amino acids and plays an essential role in building and repairing bones and muscles and providing energy for our body. Protein is found in hair, skin and nails and maintains pH and fluid balance at proper levels. But not all proteins are alike, and the type and quantity of protein you consume can impact your health, including the one of your heart. In this article, we look at the connection between protein and heart health and how to ensure you are eating the protein your body needs.
Does protein affect your heart?
The short answer is YES.
A balanced diet consisting of animal-based and plant-originated proteins decreases the risk of heart disease.
How much protein should you consume for a healthy heart?
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of protein takes into account the age and weight of individuals, with scientists recommending 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of an adult’s body. That means, for example, 50 grams of protein for a 63 kg adult or 70 grams for an adult weighing 90 kg. Children, pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding require a little bit more than that because their bodies build more muscles.
Why is protein good for your heart?
Protein creates the enzymes that “fuel” chemical reactions and the haemoglobin that transport the oxygen in the blood.
One study indicated that a sufficient protein intake was associated with decreased mortality in hypertensive patients. Other studies highlighted that more amino acids (broken down from protein) prevented cardiac dysfunction in patients affected by type 2 diabetes mellitus.
The research checked if consuming a larger quantity than the daily recommendation would benefit the heart. The result stated that eating up to 74 grams of healthy protein per day could decrease the risk of developing AFib – Atrial Fibrillation. AFib is the most frequent type of treated heart arrhythmia, an affection in which the heart beats irregularly, too slowly or too fast and can cause death. However, the researchers indicated that eating more than 74 grams of protein daily negatively affects the entire body.
It’s important to know that protein intake should be split into 30 grams portions, as the body cannot process more than that at once.
Can a lack of protein cause heart problems?
A lack of protein, called protein deficiency or hypoproteinemia, appears when you do not consume the amount of protein your body requires.
In 2014, about 1 billion people worldwide were affected by hypoproteinemia, which is more common in older people, as they tend to consume less food.
Lack or insufficient protein can cause health issues like weakened heart, lungs and immune system, loss of muscle mass and a slowdown of growth.
What proteins are best for your heart?
You can get protein for the heart from two main sources: animal sources and plant-based sources. Variety is important, which is why you should mix the proteins coming from animals with proteins derived from plants. Plant proteins contain phytonutrients that promote heart health, such as polyphenols and antioxidants, that fight against the negative impact of free radicals.
You can obtain protein from:
legumes – lentils and beans, in particular, are high in protein, come in dried or canned form and can be used for soups, stews or salads. Consuming beans like edamame, red kidney or black and navy beans provides 15 to 32 per cent of the daily recommended dose of protein;
nuts and seeds – the protein contained in these “superfoods” help the body recover faster after injury and the heart function better. Nuts and seeds can be consumed either raw as a healthy snack or as ingredients in various healthy dishes;
milk – a glass of milk provides 8 grams of protein;
yoghurt – a cup of regular yoghurt contains around 11 grams of protein, while Greek yoghurt provides 13 grams. Mixing Greek yoghurt with fresh or frozen fruits and adding them to oatmeal will result in a healthy breakfast filled with protein;
lean meat – red meat (unprocessed beef, veal, lamb, pork, mutton and goat), wild game, and poultry (duck, turkey, chicken) are good for the heart as long as you consume them in small portions (around 85 grams per serving) and you remove the excess fat and trim the skin off the poultry;
fish – you can eat fish two to three times a week, as it contains protein and healthy Omega fatty acids, linked to a lower risk of heart disease. There is a wide range of fish you can choose from – mackerel, tuna, cod, bass, whiting, anchovy, haddock, trout or pickerel;
whey protein – found in dairy products, is a byproduct of the cheese-manufacturing process and has a positive effect on the cardiovascular system when consumed in moderation
(25-50 grams per day). Often found as a powder, whey protein can be added to liquids or soft foods or used for fruit smoothies;
other foods: hummus (preferably home-made), eggs, Ezekiel bread (made of sprouted whole grains and legumes like barley, wheat, millet, spelt, soybeans, and lentils), shellfish, peanut butter, and various grains.
To benefit from the advantages protein provides to your heart, diversity is the answer:
- have peanut butter on toast for breakfast,
- add some low-fat cottage cheese to your dinner’s mashed potatoes,
- flavour your green salad with some pine nuts or other nuts and seeds,
- prepare a delicious bean soup for the family lunch,
- have a healthy hummus or Greek yoghurt snack,
- indulge yourself with a serving of lean red meat steak or
- combine any foods that contain protein to protect your heart better.