According to dietitian, the best protein for your heart is beans. Read on to discover how beans can boost your heart health.
1. What is protein?
Protein is a macronutrient that is essential to building muscle mass. It is commonly found in animal products, though is also present in other sources, such as nuts and legumes.
The word protein comes from the Greek “protos,” which “reflects protein’s top- shelf status in human nutrition,” Harvard Health reported.
According to Victoria Taylor, a dietitian at the British Heart Foundation: “Macronutrients are the nutrients we need in larger quantities that provide us with energy. In other words, fat, protein and carbohydrates.” The body requires large amounts of macronutrients to sustain life, hence the term “macro,” according to the University of Illinois McKinley Health Center. Each gram of protein contains 4 calories. Protein makes up about 15% of a person’s body weight.
2. Why is protein important?
Chemically, protein is composed of amino acids, which are organic compounds made of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen or sulfur. Just as amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, proteins are the building blocks of muscle mass, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“When protein is broken down in the body it helps to fuel muscle mass, which helps metabolism,” said Jessica Crandall, a registered dietitian nutritionist, certified diabetes educator and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “It also helps the immune system stay strong. It helps you stay full. A lot of research has shown that protein has satiety effects.”
For example, research has shown that satiety, or feeling full after a meal, improved after consuming a high-protein snack. In a study published in 2014 in the journal Nutrition, researchers compared afternoon snacks of high-protein yogurt, high-fat crackers and high-fat chocolate. Among the women who participated in the study, consuming the yogurt led to greater reductions in afternoon hunger versus the chocolate. These women also ate less at dinner compared with the women who snacked on crackers or chocolate.
A similar study published in 2015 in the Journal of Nutrition found that adolescents who consumed high-protein afternoon snacks showed reduced appetite, satiety and diet quality. The teens also had improved moods and better cognition.
3. How much protein is healthy?
The U.S Department of Agriculture(opens in new tab) recommends that 10% to 35% of daily calories come from protein. How that equates to grams of protein depends on the caloric needs of the individual. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture(opens in new tab), the amount of protein-rich foods a person should eat depends on age, sex and level of physical activity.
“”A safe level of protein ranges from 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight [2.2 lbs.], up to 2 grams of protein per kilogram for very active athletes,”” said Crandall. “”But most Americans truly need to be eating about 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.”” The NIH(opens in new tab) has detailed recommendations for the amount of nutrients an individual should consume.
“Most people need 20 to 30 grams of protein per meal,” said Crandall. “For example, that”s 2.5 egg whites at breakfast or 3 to 4 ounces of meat at dinner.” Most American women are not getting anywhere close to adequate protein at breakfast, according to Crandall. “”That could be hindering their muscle mass, their metabolism and their hormone levels.””
Crandall cautioned parents against stressing protein consumption for their children, who typically get sufficient protein. “It’s important to focus on fruits and vegetables for kids, but protein supplementation for kids is going overboard,” she said. When considering how to get protein into kids’ diets, parents should focus on whole foods and natural sources.
4. The #1 best protein to eat for your heart
Proteins are considered the building blocks of life. As one of the three main macronutrients (alongside carbohydrates and fat), protein is used in large amounts, as it plays a critical role in a range of bodily functions.
From repairing and building tissue to increasing muscle mass and promoting bone health, protein is an essential part of a healthy diet. However, there’s a common misconception that Americans aren’t getting enough of it. On the contrary, most Americans consume twice as much protein as they need, with The American Heart Association stating that “often the extra protein is coming from meats high in saturated fats.”
It’s no secret that eating too much of this protein can have a negative impact on your health—particularly your heart health. This raises the question: what’s the best option?
According to our medical expert board member Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LDN, the best protein for your heart is beans. Read on to discover how beans can boost your heart health.
How do beans affect your heart?
“Not only do these plant-based protein foods pack a punch in the protein department, but they also provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can support heart health,” Manaker says.
In fact, in a 2019 review published in Advances in Nutrition, researchers found that participants who consumed the most legumes and pulses experienced a decrease in the incidence of coronary heart disease (10%), hypertension (9%), and cardiovascular disease (8%).
To add to the list of heart health benefits, eating beans has also been found to help lower cholesterol.
“The soluble fiber found in beans can quite literally inhibit cholesterol from being absorbed by the body,” Manaker says.
In an analysis of 26 U.S. and Canadian studies, researchers found that participants who ate approximately one serving (3/4 cup) of legumes per day experienced a decrease in low-density lipoprotein (LDL)—or “bad” cholesterol—by 5%.
How much should I consume?
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults eat about three cups of legumes— including beans—per week. This breaks down to about half a cup of beans every day.