Eating a high-protein diet is not neccessary—or even healthy—for most of us. But, including at least some protein-rich foods in our daily diet is. There are many protein-rich foods. They can be divided into a few major categories:
So does it matter which protein-rich foods you select? It does. As always, choosing a variety of foods is ideal. And when considering where to get your protein it is also important to be aware of the many protein-rich foods that are also rich in fat and cholesterol.
Full-fat dairy products (whole milk, yogurt, cheese), poultry skin, and many cuts of meat are high in cholesterol and saturated fat. Saturated fat raises blood cholesterol. A high level of cholesterol in the blood is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, which can lead to a heart attack.
In addition to having a diet low in cholesterol and saturated fat, the American Heart Association (AHA) also recommends limiting your intake of trans fats. Trans fats, commonly listed on the nutrition label as "hydrogenated oil," can be found in many snack foods, like cakes, cookies, and crackers, as well as fast foods, like French fries and onion rings.
By choosing protein-rich foods that are low in cholesterol and unhealthy fats, you may be able to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Fish is a good source of protein that has less total fat and saturated fat than meat and poultry. Some fish are high in fat, but the fat is mostly omega-3 fatty acids—a type of polyunsaturated fat. Unsaturated fats, both mono and poly, are considered heart healthy. While studies are conflicting, omega-3 fatty acids may be able to prevent arteries from hardening and prevent blood from clotting and sticking to artery walls. With these actions, omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Low-fat dairy products are recommended as part of a hearty-healthy diet. Choosing low-fat dairy products is part of the DASH diet, which is specifically designed to lower blood pressure. It emphasizes the importance of eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy products, lean meats, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Some studies have shown that following a DASH diet can decrease the risk of death from cardiovascular events such as stroke and heart attack.
The AHA recommends eating no more than 6 ounces per day of cooked fish, shellfish, poultry (without skin), or trimmed lean meat. A standard serving is 3 ounces, which is about the size of a deck of cards. This is equal to:
To get the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, eat at least 2 servings of fish per week. Those high in omega-3 fatty acids include:
Remember that large, cold water fish, such as tuna, may be contaminated with heavy metals like mercury. Pregnant women are especially at risk and should follow current recommendations regarding fish intake. You may choose to supplement your diet with high quality fish oil that has the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids without the risk of mercury contamination, but always talk to your doctor before starting any supplements.
When eating meat and poultry, make leaner choices:
Make these substitutions:
Legumes are very versatile. Try some of these ways to work them into your diet:
To make the switch to lower fat dairy products, try this:
An egg is an excellent source of protein, B vitamins, and minerals. It is also high in cholesterol (about 200 mg in one egg). The cholesterol is only in the yolk of the egg, not the white. For a healthier option, the AHA advises people to substitute two eggs whites for each egg yolk.
Other substitutions that you may want to try include:
American Heart Association
Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Canadian Cardiovascular Society
Heart & Stroke Foundation
Cooking for lower cholesterol. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/PreventionTreatmentofHighCholesterol/Cooking-for-Lower-Cholesterol_UCM_305630_Article.jsp. Updated July 16, 2014. Accessed July 14, 2016.
DASH diet. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 29, 2016. Accessed July 14, 2016.
Diet and lifestyle recommendations. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/HealthyDietGoals/Dictionary-of-Nutrition_UCM_305855_Article.jsp#.V4egwE2FPIU. Updated January 20, 2016. Accessed October 14, 2014.
Dietary recommendations for cardiovascular disease prevention. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated September 10, 2014. Accessed July 14, 2016.
Fish and omega-3 fatty acids. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyDietGoals/Fish-and-Omega-3-Fatty-Acids_UCM_303248_Article.jsp. Updated May 14, 2014. Accessed Ocotober 13, 2014.
Fish oil. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/biomedical-libraries/natural-alternative-treatments. Updated December 15, 2015. Accessed July 14, 2016.
Hypercholesterolemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated July 6, 2016. Accessed July 14, 2016.
Meat, poultry, and fish. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Meat-Poultry-and-Fish_UCM_306002_Article.jsp#.V4eheU2FPIU. Updated May 4, 2015. Accessed October 14, 2014.
Your guide to lowering your blood pressure with DASH—How do I make the DASH? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/resources/heart/hbp-dash-how-to. Accessed July 14, 2016.
Last reviewed July 2016 by Michael Woods MD Last Updated: 7/14/2016