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Protein and heart health
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Protein and heart health

What are the best sources of protein when it come to your heart health

Key takeaways

  • Healthy protein foods impact your risk of heart disease in different ways 
  • Legumes (e.g. chickpeas, beans and lentils), and fish or seafood are the most beneficial sources of protein 
  • Eggs and poultry do not impact your risk of heart disease 
  • Red meat should be limited to less than 350g (1-3 meals) a week 
  • Processed meat can increase your risk of heart disease and should be avoided. 
3 min read

Protein is a macronutrient made up of amino acids that is essential to repairing and building bones and muscles in the body, energy and your heart. Healthy proteins from animal and plants can be included as part of a balanced diet. Opting for healthier proteins can help minimise your risk of heart disease.

Sources of healthy protein  

When choosing protein foods, include a variety of sources. Protein can be plant or animal based. They all provide different nutrients for your body. Each source of protein can have a beneficial, neutral or potentially harmful effect on your heart health and risk of heart disease. 

Legumes

Legumes (also known as pulses), are plant-based sources of protein. Legumes are great source of protein for vegans and vegetarians but can benefit everyone.  

Legumes include:  

  • All types of beans 
  • Chickpeas  
  • Lentils 
  • Split peas 
  • Soybeans 

Legumes contain soluble fibre, micro-nutrients, healthy fats and have a low glycaemic index (GI). These nutrients are linked to lower total cholesterol levels, which can help lower your risk of heart disease. 

How you can eat more legumes 

Legumes come either dried (uncooked) or tinned. When buying tinned options, make sure they contain no added salt.  

Here are some ways to include more legumes in your diet:   

  • Add legumes to soups and salads 
  • Eat roasted chickpeas as a snack on-the-go  
  • Serve hummus with vegetable sticks as a snack   
  • Substitute mince with lentils or chickpeas in homemade burger patties 

Serving size:  

1 cup (150g) of cooked or tinned beans, peas or lentils

 


Fish and seafood 

Eating more fish has been consistently associated with lower rates of heart disease and stroke, aim for 2-3 serves per week. Fish and seafood are great sources of protein that are low in saturated fat and rich in omega-3 fats, which are good for the heart. Since our bodies can’t produce omega-3 naturally, we need to eat foods that contain it. Oily fish is one of the best dietary sources of omega-3. 

Good sources of fish and seafood include: 

  • Whiting 
  • Trout  
  • Basa  
  • Prawns 
  • Oysters  
  • Scallops  
  • Calamari  
  • Crab  
  • Mussels 

Good sources of oily fish with the highest levels of omega-3 include:  

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Sardines (fresh or tinned)
  • Mackerel (fresh or tinned)  

How to eat more fish and seafood

Frozen seafood can be a cheaper and more convenient choice. When buying tinned seafood, be mindful of salt and other ingredients in flavoured tinned fish for opt for unflavoured. 

  • Add unflavoured tinned tuna or salmon as a sandwich filler or to top a healthy salad  
  • Enjoy baked or steamed fish parcels as a delicious and simple dinner option  
  • Add seafood marinara mixes to stir-fries and pasta dishes 
  • Grab a tin of tuna or salmon for on the go.  

Serving size: 

  • 150g of fresh fish (the size of your hand)
  • 100g of unflavoured tinned fish
  • Enjoy fish 2-3 times a week 

 


Eggs 

Eggs are a complete source of protein, vitamin A, E and B12, selenium choline and iron and cholesterol. However, the cholesterol in eggs has minimal effect on blood cholesterol. 

Foods high in saturated fat and trans-fat have the greatest impact on your cholesterol levels. The neutral relationship between eggs and heart health means eggs neither increase nor decrease the risk of heart disease in most people. 

How many eggs should you eat per week? 

The Heart Foundation does not set a limit on the number of eggs you should eat a week. However, some people are more sensitive to eating dietary cholesterol than others.  

A maximum of seven eggs a week is recommended for those with: 

  • High LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) 

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Existing heart disease 

What you eat with your egg matters 

Eggs can be eaten with balanced healthy meals or as a healthy snack option:  

  • Enjoy eggs and avocado on wholegrain toast as a healthy alternative to a bacon and egg roll  

  • Add eggs in salads or sandwiches or as a snack

 


Poultry 

Poultry is a good source of protein, niacin, vitamin A, magnesium and zinc. Poultry products include: 

  • Chicken 

  • Turkey 

  • Duck

  • Other birds 

The wings, thighs and breasts of birds all have different nutrient levels. Whether the skin is on or off also matters. Poultry has no known impact on heart disease.  

How much poultry should you eat per week? 

Eating poultry doesn’t increase or decrease the risk of heart disease. While there’s no maximum limit for how much poultry you should eat, it is not directly beneficial to heart health. Eating poultry should be part of a balanced diet, along with other sources of healthy protein.  

Serving size:  

  • One serve is 100g (the size of your palm)  

  • Remove the skin from products 

  • Choose lean cuts, like chicken or turkey breasts

 


Red meat  

Red meat is the most common animal-based source of protein. It provides iron, zinc and vitamin B12, which helps our bodies repair and build bones and muscles. 

Red meat includes: 

  • Beef 

  • Veal 

  • Pork 

  • Lamb 

  • Game meats 

  • Mutton

  • Kangaroo

Red meat health risks 

Evidence has found high red meat consumption moderately increases the risk of heart disease and stroke and may lead to weight gain. Type 2 diabetes is a risk factor for heart disease, so it’s important to limit red meat consumption.  

How much red meat should you be eating per week?  

Limiting red meat intake to 350 grams (or 1-3 meals) of lean meat a week can have a big impact on improving your heart health. 

On average, Australians are eating 1.6x more than the recommended 350 grams a week:  

  • One serve of red meat is 100g (the size of your palm)  

  • Two chops are a serve of red meat 

  • Remove visible fat before cooking and choose lean cuts of meat 

Unhealthy proteins: Processed meat 

Processed and deli meats are consistently linked to poor health outcomes. Processed meats can include sausages, ham, salami, beef jerky, and bacon. These products tend to be high in salt, additives and saturated fat, which are linked to a higher risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions. Eating well for your heart means avoiding or limiting the amount of processed meat you eat.  

Processed meats are preserved to last longer and can be: 

  • Cured 

  • Salted  

  • Smoked 

  • Dried

  • Tinned 

How to swap out processed meats with healthier alternatives  

  • Use roast chicken, unflavoured tinned tuna, or egg instead of ham in a sandwich

  • Make falafels or homemade veggie or meat patties instead of sausages

Picking your proteins 

Remember that no single food or nutrient promotes heart health over the other. It is the overall eating pattern that matters the most. Opting for healthier proteins can help minimise your risk of heart disease.

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