More often than not, you think “muscle building” when you think of protein. However, making sure you consume enough protein each day can also have a healthy impact on your heart. The benefits of protein are critical to the body in that it’s needed for repairing, building and maintaining tissues, cells and organs (like the heart). That being said, you can have too much of a good thing. Where many people misstep is in the quantity and quality of the protein they choose. Choose wisely and your heart will flutter with appreciation.
How much protein do you need?
When it comes to maintaining heart health, protein should account for no more than 10 – 35% of your daily caloric intake, or about 0.8 grams per pound of body weight. For a 140-pound person, that would equate to 112 grams of protein daily, give or take. Divide your total so that you’re getting equal amounts of protein at every meal throughout the day. The best way to measure – and remember – a serving of protein is to imagine a deck of cards. If that’s too difficult, simply compare the serving size to the palm of your hand. And, of course, don’t forget to pair your protein with healthy fats and slow-digesting carbohydrates for optimum nutrition.
Where should you get your protein?
There are many good quality protein sources available that are also heart healthy. The key is to avoid those high in saturated fat. According to the American Heart Association, replacing food high in saturated fat with leaner choices can help lower cholesterol. Better, leaner proteins include the following:
Fish – Salmon, sardines, anchovies, trout, tuna and herring all provide heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids in addition to being good sources of protein. Aim to eat seafood at least twice per week as part of your balanced diet.
Beans – An easy way to boost protein intake and get your fiber needs is with beans and peas. Only one cup of Vitacost Certified Organic Black Beans, for instance, offers 16 grams of protein and 18 grams of fiber. Toss these gems in salads, stir into soups or grab and go for snacking.
Poultry – Look for organic, non-GMO and/or free-range chicken and turkey. Also, remove the skin to substantially reduce the amount of saturated fat. On average, 4 ounces of grilled chicken contains about 36 grams of protein – can’t go wrong there!
Nuts & seeds – These are another fiber-rich protein source, and who doesn’t love a two-for-one? Like fish, nuts and seeds are also full of the “good” fats, which is beneficial to heart health. Choose raw, unsalted almonds, walnuts or cashews for homemade trail mix or toppings. Seeds like chia and flax are filling options that mix well into smoothies, salads and even baked goods.
Dairy – When it comes to milk, cheese and yogurt, always read the labels and look for added sugars and non-dairy ingredients you don’t need. Choose Greek yogurt if you can, because it has almost double the protein as the non-Greek variety – and less sugar! For breakfast, add an 8-ounce glass of milk for 8 extra grams of protein with your whole-grain cereal.