Heart Healthy Protein Foods: Good Vs Bad Proteins

heart healthy protein

Proteins are an essential component of our diet. One can not totally avoid them. However, cardiac patients should choose foods that have heart-healthy protein and minimal fats.


Proteins are the building blocks of the body we have heard this statement a million times. But do we consider it? No!

People nowadays are too busy calculating calories and counting their carbs and fats that they almost skip the importance of proteins.

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Protein is the most beneficial and nutritious macronutrient. A balanced diet contains an adequate amount of beneficial protein in it.

In this article, we focus on heart-healthy protein foods, high-quality protein sources that are best for heart patients.

Plant-based Protein vs. Animal protein- which one’s best for your heart?     

Plant proteins and animal proteins, both have a different effects on heart health. Although both types of protein are important and necessary for the normal functioning of the body, animal protein has been linked to a greater risk of development of heart and kidney disease.

Still, animal protein is “Complete protein” which means it contains a complete array of essential amino acids. While plant protein is “Incomplete protein” we need to mix different plant-based foods to gain all the essential amino acids.

Protein Rich Diet for Vegetarians (Protein-Rich Fruits and Vegetables)

Research suggests that increasing the consumption of dietary protein is beneficial for cardiovascular health as it helps with weight maintenance, improves lipid profile, and helps in regulating blood pressure. But it is important to select the source of protein wisely.

Animal protein such as Red Meat has a high concentration of saturated fats which is harmful to the heart.

One study suggests that substituting red meat with high-quality plant-based proteins resulted in a decrease in mortality, better lipid profile, and decreased levels of triglycerides in heart patients. [Ref]

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Another study suggests that CVD risk is decreased by following a dietary pattern that includes more plant-based proteins and lean proteins that are low in saturated fats. [Ref]

This is the main reason why most cardiac diets sound more like vegan diets. But it doesn’t mean that you need to avoid animal protein completely.

Best Heart Healthy Protein Foods Sources:

Here are some of the best high-quality protein options from both plant and animal sources.

1.    Fish

Fish not only provides high-quality protein but it is also rich in omega 3 fatty acids and essential vitamins such as Vitamin D and Riboflavin.

The American Heart Association (AHA) also recommends fish consumption at least two times per week

Fish protein provides a complete array of essential amino acids and it also improved cardiometabolic health due to the abundance of healthy fatty acids.

High Protein Fish (Fish With Most Protein): Tuna, Cod, and Salmon

A recent meta-analysis suggests that fish consumption has an inverse relationship with the development of coronary heart disease and associated risk of mortality. [Ref]

The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests replacing animal protein sources (red meat, processed meat, and full-fat dairy products) with fish and seafood.

2.   Poultry & Eggs

Skinless poultry or white meat is another good alternative to red meat. It has low saturated fat content but is a complete protein source and provides a good amount of monounsaturated fats.

Eggs are another good source of protein. Although, some studies have found that eggs are high in cholesterol and it has often been suggested to heart patients to avoid the consumption of egg yolk

But when eaten in moderation, eggs are perfectly healthy for heart patients. 6-7 eggs per week are included in cardiac diets.

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3.   Legumes

Beans, lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, split peas, and tofu are common types of legumes. These foods are not only rich in protein but also high in fiber and other essential minerals and vitamins.

Studies suggest that including legumes and beans in the daily diet decreases LDL cholesterol, improves insulin sensitivity, regulates blood pressure, and aids in weight management. [Ref]

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4.   Low-fat dairy

Low-fat dairy products are the best alternative for heart patients. These products are low and sometimes even contain little to no fat but provide a good portion of proteins, Vitamin B2, calcium, and magnesium.

A long-term observational study, examined multiple lifestyle modifications to decrease CVD risk, the study also concluded that shifting from full-fat dairy to low-fat or fat-free dairy products reduced total serum cholesterol and decreased the CVD risk. [Ref]

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5.   Nuts

Nut and nut butter are considered high in fat, but they are perfectly healthy because they are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids.

Another thing that makes them a perfect snack is their high antioxidant and protein content. All types of nuts are good, but the best ones are walnuts, almonds, cashew nuts, and hazelnuts.

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Why is Red Meat Restricted in the Cardiac diet?

Red meat isn’t completely restricted for heart patients.  But it must be eaten in moderation because increased consumption of red meat has been associated with an increased risk of heart diseases. This is because of the high saturated fat content found in red meat.

But if red meat is desired, go for the lean portions and avoid processed forms.

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Common examples of processed meats include:

  • Deli meat
  • Hot dogs
  • Sausages
  • Bacon
  • Pepperoni

These variations of meat are high in salt, and fats and contain polycyclic aromatic compounds (Cancer-causing agents). That’s why these types must be avoided.

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Common Mistakes

A mistake all people do after switching to a healthy eating pattern is not changing their cooking and food preparation methods.

One important step to making these protein sources completely healthy for your heart is to choose the best way to cook them. Here are some common practices which must be avoided.

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  • Frying fish and poultry:

    • Fried fish and poultry might taste good but it isn’t healthy for your heart when it is loaded with oil. Always go for grilled or steamed options.
  • Type of oil:

    • Cook foods in heart-healthy oils such as olive oil, canola oil, or sunflower oil.
  • Salted Nuts:

    • Nuts are healthy but that extra amount of salt is a big NO!
  • Bean Salads:

    • Adding cream or mayo to bean salads only loads up the calories.

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What do you think?

Written by Dr. Ahmed

I am Dr. Ahmed (MBBS; FCPS Medicine), an Internist and a practicing physician. I am in the medical field for over fifteen years working in one of the busiest hospitals and writing medical posts for over 5 years.

I love my family, my profession, my blog, nature, hiking, and simple life. Read more about me, my family, and my qualifications

Here is a link to My Facebook Page. You can also contact me by email at or at My Twitter Account
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