‘I'm a Cardiologist and This is the Type of Protein I Eat Almost Every Day for Heart Health’

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While it’s important for people of all ages to get adequate protein, it’s even more important to prioritize this crucial macronutrient as we age. Protein needs increase with age because muscle mass declines as we get older and protein is important for maintaining muscle mass.

It’s important to be mindful of how you increase your protein because while some protein sources are beneficial for heart health, others can increase the risk of heart disease when eaten in excess. Here, cardiologists share what they want everyone to know about protein and heart health, and reveal the type of protein that’s the absolute best for cardiovascular health.

Related: 'I'm a Cardiologist and This Is the Type of Fish I Eat At Least Once a Week for Heart Health'

General Guidelines to Keep In Mind When It Comes to Protein and Heart Health

“When considering heart health in your diet, it's important to think about the type of protein, portion size and how it's prepared,” says Dr. Nieca Goldberg, MD, a Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. Dr. Goldberg says that heart-healthy proteins include fish, beans, eggs, low-fat cheese, skinless chicken and ground turkey.

“If you choose beef, opt for lean cuts with less visible fat, and limit to three ounces, which is about the size of a deck of cards, eating it only a couple of times a week to reduce intake of unhealthy fats,” Dr. Goldberg says. In terms of how to cook your protein, she says that roasting, baking, broiling and grilling are all much more heart-healthy than deep-frying them in oil.

Related: This Is the Worst Habit for Heart Health, According to Cardiologists

Dr. Andrew D. Bromley, MD, a cardiologist at UHealth - University of Miami Health System, recommends following the Mediterranean diet, which prioritizes plant-based proteins such as beans, lentils, chickpeas and tofu, as well as fish. “A Mediterranean diet isn’t necessarily a strict diet as much as it is a general framework for thinking about how to eat,” he says. “The most common animal form of protein comes in the form of fish and seafood, with twice weekly consumption recommended. Dairy products are consumed in moderation and red meat consumption is limited to a few times per month.”

Scientific studies back up the connection between the Mediterranean diet and heart health showing that people who follow it have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Dr. Bromley points to another scientific study showing that people who followed the Mediterranean diet were less likely to suffer from major cardiovascular events such as heart attacks or strokes.

Related: What Is the Mediterranean Diet and What Can You Eat On It?

The Type of Protein Cardiologists Love the Most

Taking all this scientific evidence into account, there’s one type of protein that Dr. Bromley recommends the most: plant-based protein. “When choosing your protein sources, try to get as much of your protein from non-animal-based sources. Legumes, which include beans, lentils, chickpeas and peas, are a huge protein source. Additionally, nuts and seeds are a key component of the Mediterranean diet and a fantastic protein source,” Dr. Bromley says.

He adds that whole grains are another great plant-based protein source that many people don’t often think of. “Unprocessed whole grains such as quinoa, buckwheat, oats, barley, bulgur and farro can be quite rich in protein. These plant-based proteins are low in saturated fat and rich in fiber, which can have a favorable effect on one’s lipid profile by helping to reduce LDL-cholesterol,” he says.

When it comes to Dr. Bromley’s own diet, he says that he tries to get as much of his daily protein needs from plant-based sources as possible and then supplement that with animal-based proteins, as needed. “Beans, nuts, and oats are a regular staple in my pantry at home and appear in my meals throughout the week,” he says, adding that he also eats fish about twice a week. “One of my favorite ways to enjoy fresh fish is to bake it with lots of delicious herbs, such as parsley and tarragon, and lots of extra-virgin olive oil,” he continues.

Dr. Goldberg agrees that plant-based protein sources and fish are both excellent heart-healthy choices. She advocates eating a wide range of protein sources for maximum health benefits. “Proteins from fish and beans are excellent for heart health. Eggs, another good protein source, can also be made healthier by not pairing with bacon and sausages. Otherwise, other sources of proteins can be made more heart-healthy by being mindful of preparation methods, portion sizes and trimming excess fat,” she says.

If you’re used to red meat being your primary protein source, Dr. Bromley says to make small, gradual changes to eating more Mediterranean diet-style meals. “I am always encouraged when patients initially commit to dramatic dietary overhauls, but I often try to temper them. Life is a marathon. I try to encourage my patients to take on dietary habits that aren’t overly burdensome, still allow them to enjoy the act of eating and are habits that they could envision committing their future years and decades to,” he says.

Fortunately, there are a wide variety of plant-based proteins to choose from. Experiment with different ones and integrating them into your meals in new, creative ways. Not only will your meals be more interesting, you’ll be supporting your heart in the process.

Next up, check out this list of 110 foods you can eat while following the Mediterranean diet.