Getting to the Heart of a Healthy Diet: Protein-Rich Foods
Protein can come from dairy products, meats, poultry, nuts, legumes, and soy. They are a very important part of our daily diets and something our bodies need, to:
- Create, repair, and maintain tissue
- Help build enzymes and hormones
- Help build immunity to fight infection
As with any food group, it is important to choose your particular proteins carefully. Some protein-rich foods (like red meat) are high in cholesterol and saturated fats. The harms of these fats may outweigh the benefits of the protein. There are also several very healthy forms of protein, so it is important to choose your protein sources wisely.
Fat and Cholesterol
Full fat dairy products (whole milk, yogurt, cheese), poultry skin, and many cuts of red meat are high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Saturated and trans fats raise blood cholesterol, in particular they raise bad (LDL) cholesterol and lower good (HDL) cholesterol.. A high level of bad cholesterol in the blood is a major risk factor for heart disease, which can lead to heart attacks. Choosing low fat version of meats and dairy products and watching your portion sizes can help reduce this risk without completely eliminating these foods.
On the other hand, plant based proteins, like legumes have very little saturated fat or cholesterol. These are good to incorporate into your diet so that you get enough protein without cholesterol risks.
Fish 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 heart healthy. Omega-3s are believed to help prevent arteries from hardening and to help prevent blood from clotting and sticking to artery walls. Omega-3s may help prevent atherosclerosis and heart attacks.
Dark meat fish contain higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. It is important to note that although eating fish has more evidence for benefits, fish oil supplements have not been proven to carry the same benefits.
To Help Lower Blood Pressure
Evidence indicates that specialized diets may prevent mild hypertension. Both the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and the DASH low-sodium diet appear to help blood pressure control.
DASH incorporates low-fat dairy, lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and whole grains as part of a well-rounded diet.
Making drastic changes rarely work out. Take a few of these tips and start to work them into your everyday menu. Healthy eating does not have to be boring or exclude all your favorite foods. Watch your portion sizes on foods that are higher in saturated fats and look for ways to substitute healthier proteins or fats in your favorite recipes. You may find the healthier version tastes just as good!
Last reviewedNovember 2012by Brian P. Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.