Protein for Heart Health

Sometimes when people try to reduce the fat and cholesterol in their diet they end up not getting enough protein. This usually occurs because they cut back or eliminate meat and other high fat animal products from their diet in order to reduce their fat intake. Although this is a good idea, you need to replace the protein that these foods were providing with other protein sources that are lower in fat. 

When protein is lacking in the diet a number of things in the body can be affected. Protein is responsible for growth and repair of all the cells in the body. Your immune system, which helps your body fight infection and disease, becomes weak without protein. Protein is the main ingredient of your muscles. It is also needed for red blood cell and hormone production. Red blood cells transport oxygen and hemoglobin in our body so you have the energy to carry out daily activities. Hormones are substances that regulate a variety of things in the body such as appetite, blood sugar, digestion, temperature, etc.

Research shows protein is the most satisfying of all the nutrients. When you don't eat protein at a meal you may feel hungry sooner. This may be related to protein's effect on blood sugar. Many people overlook the importance of protein in their diet.

How much protein do you need?

Protein needs are based on individual body weight. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for the average person is .4 grams of protein per pound of body weight.

Example: for a 120 lb. Person; multiply 120 x .4 = 48 grams of protein per day.

Your protein requirement: Your weight _____ x 0.4 gram protein =_____ grams of protein/day

Protein is made up of amino acids. Animal protein (fish, chicken, beef, milk products, eggs) contains all the essential amino acids our bodies need and are considered complete proteins. Plant proteins (breads, beans, pasta, rice, vegetables) lack some amino acids, so they are considered incomplete proteins. Soy is an exception; it is a plant protein that contains all the essential amino acids that animal proteins contain. Soy-based foods are an excellent replacement for animal protein. It is recommended to eat a wide variety of plant proteins to ensure adequate protein intake.

Plant Protein

Animal food isn't the only way to get protein in your diet. Many studies have demonstrated that people who consume a vegan diet (no animal protein at all) have a healthier cholesterol level and lower blood pressure than meat-eaters. At the Women's Heart Center, we encourage our patients to consume animal protein, three to four ounces, at no more than one meal per day.

It is important however, to get enough protein in your diet, because women often don't eat enough protein. For other sources of protein you can consume:

  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Soyfoods
  • Whole grains

Nutritionists used to believe you needed to combine vegetable protein sources at each meal in order to make complete protein. Today, nutritionists advise eating a variety of beans, nuts, grains and vegetables over a few days. That way your body will be able to make all the protein it needs.