As people strive for healthier diets and lifestyles geared toward living longer lives, a lot of emphasis is put on eating enough protein. There are a lot of ways to make those daily grams of protein stack up: Burgers topped with bacon and cheese. Baskets brimming with fried chicken tenders. Charcuterie boards layered with ultra-processed meats and cheeses. While appetizing, these are not heart healthy ways to get your daily protein. When it comes to heart health, the best proteins are low in saturated fat.
Why your body needs protein. Your body needs a certain amount of protein every day to function well. Many people think about protein being directly related to building muscles or keeping you full, but it does more than that. Protein is part of a large number of internal processes that include:
- Carrying oxygen in your blood throughout your body
How much protein do I need? In the developed world, most people don’t have to worry about getting enough protein in their diet. Culturally, people’s diets in the United States are considered protein-rich, with some people eating protein at every meal. It’s recommended that people get anywhere from 10% to 35% of their daily calories from protein. This calculator is helpful tool for overall healthy adults to determine their daily needs.
Between servings of meat, chicken and dairy, it’s usually not difficult to amass the needed grams of protein each day. The part to focus on is quality. That means making sure you’re getting high-protein foods that are low in saturated fat and include other heart healthy nutrients like omega-3s and fiber. Omega-3s in proteins like fatty fish slow the buildup of plaque and reduce triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood. Fiber in proteins like legumes may boost heart health in a few ways – by lowering LDL cholesterol and reducing blood pressure and inflammation.
Heart-healthy choices. Research has shown that picking lean sources of protein instead of meats high in saturated fat can help decrease the chances of heart disease and stroke, according to The American Heart Association.
The best high-protein, low-saturated fat choices for a healthy diet include:
- Fish: Salmon, tuna and sardines are good omega-3-rich options. Aim for at least a 3-ounce to 6-ounce serving each week.
- Nuts: Walnuts, almonds, cashews and peanuts are among the top choices.
- Legumes: Beans, peas and lentils. These are high in fiber and very low in fat.
- Poultry: Grilled and roasted chicken or turkey are good choices. The skin packs in saturated fat, so it’s best to avoid it for heart health. Skip deli cuts of poultry when possible, as these are linked to an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
- Low-fat dairy: Yogurt, cheeses and milk.
How many grams of protein are in some of these low-fat choices. You might be surprised how easy it is to get the amount of protein you need for a healthy diet each day. When you’re planning a meal with lean poultry like chicken or turkey, a serving is about the same size as a deck of cards. Here’s the breakdown of some popular options in grams:
- One cup of low-fat milk: 8 grams
- Six ounces of salmon: 34 grams
- One cup of dried beans: 16 grams
- Half cup of whole almonds: 15 grams
- Four ounces of chicken: 21 grams
- One cup of low-fat yogurt: 11 grams
Added low in saturated fat here as nuts are high in fat