Do you want to boost your heart health? Most of us know that if we exercise daily, stay at a healthy weight, and stop smoking, our heart health will improve. A new study suggests that consuming higher levels of amino acids, the building blocks of protein, sourced from foods like lean meats and plant-based proteins will also improve cardiac health. In fact, the researchers noted that a focus on protein in your daily diet can be just as good a heart-healthy habit as reducing salt intake, reducing alcohol consumption, avoiding cigarettes and exercising.
Researchers in the UK focused on data from TwinsUK, the largest twin registry (almost 12,000 twins), which offers data sets that look at genetic and environmental causes of age-related disease. In this study, the researchers focused on 2,000 women with healthy BMIs. Diet was correlated to blood pressure readings, blood vessel thickness, and blood vessel stiffness. Women with the highest consumption of seven amino acids, typically found in plant-based proteins, had lower levels of blood pressure and less arterial stiffness (a cardiac risk factor). The researchers identified these positive findings, a direct protective benefit, from the one dietary habit of consuming more protein.
The researchers focused specific amino acids (building blocks of proteins) including arginine, cysteine, glutamic acid, glycine, histidine, leucine and tyrosine. Some of these amino acids are found in meat and plant proteins, but the ones specifically from plant-based proteins were associated with the lowest blood pressure readings. The experts were quite surprised to find this profound an impact of dietary protein, with as much of an effect on blood pressure as already identified lifestyle habits like modified salt intake, exercise, and reduced alcohol consumption. It was also a surprise to see that the impact of protein on arterial stiffness was comparable to not smoking.
Which are the protein-rich foods you should include in your diet?
Consider eating lean meats (less frequently), fish, lower fat dairy products, beans, lentils, and vegetables like broccoli and spinach. Soy is a complete protein with all nine essential amino acids. Other vegetables higher in protein include peas, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and corn, a starchy vegetable. A portion of lean steak, or fish or skim milk can also provide the benefits of lower blood pressure, less stiff arteries and arteries that are not thick. Certainly there are other health reasons for limiting how much red meat you choose to eat. A diet heavy in red meat is associated with a higher risk of certain cancers. In this research discussion, though, as long as you consume these seven amino acids from a variety of protein sources on a regular basis, you will likely improve your heart health profile and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Bon appetite!