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Can proteins be heart-healthy? Experts say yes. But when it comes to choosing the best protein sources for your diet, it pays to be discriminating. It’s also important to eat the proper amount of different types of protein.

For example, the American Heart Association reports that many Americans get more protein than needed from meats high in saturated fat.

Eating too much saturated fat can elevate low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, which can lead to heart disease.

Processed meats have been linked to cardiovascular disease, in part due to their high content of added sodium, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.

A number of studies suggest that replacing high fat meats with more heart-healthy proteins like fish, beans, poultry, nuts, and low fat dairy might help prevent heart disease.

The nutrients in these forms of protein can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure and help you maintain a healthy weight. By choosing these proteins over high fat meat options, you can reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.

A recent study in the journal Circulation found that high levels of red meat intake increase the risk of coronary heart disease. You can reduce that risk by shifting to alternative protein sources.

Eating more fish and nuts was associated with a significantly lower risk of heart disease. One serving per day of nuts was associated with a 30 percent lower risk of heart disease than 1 serving per day of red meat.

One daily serving of fish was associated with a 24 percent lower risk, and poultry and low fat dairy were associated with a 19 percent and 13 percent lower risk, respectively.

But what specific types of these heart-healthy proteins should you eat, and how much do you need?


Fish is one of the top protein picks to help prevent cardiovascular disease. You should eat one 3- to 6-ounce fillet or one 3-ounce can of fish each week. Two of the best types of fish to eat to decrease your risk of heart disease are tuna and salmon.


In addition to the lean protein you get from tuna that’s wild, fresh, or canned in water, you’ll also receive the benefit of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce the risk of several cardiovascular problems.

Tuna also contains vitamins B12 and D, niacin, and selenium. Canned or pouched albacore tuna is slightly higher in mercury, so try chunk light tuna instead.


Whether the salmon you eat is wild, fresh, or canned, it’s a smart choice for your heart. Like tuna, salmon contains omega-3s, as well as phosphorous, potassium, selenium, and vitamins B6, B12, and D.

Wild salmon is higher in omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients, so it’s a better choice than farm-raised salmon. For healthy preparation, try broiling salmon for 10 minutes for each inch of thickness.

The Harvard School of Public Health notes that while a 6-ounce broiled porterhouse steak provides 40 grams of complete protein, it also delivers about 38 grams of fat — 14 of them saturated.

The same amount of salmon provides 34 grams of protein and only 18 grams of fat — only 4 of which are saturated.

Nuts and legumes

According to some studies, nuts are one of the healthiest protein choices you can make for your heart. Options include walnuts, almonds, cashews, pecans, and peanuts.

Legumes such as beans, peas, and lentils are another excellent option. They contain no cholesterol and significantly less fat than meat. The Harvard School of Public Health notes that 1 cup of cooked lentils delivers 18 grams of protein and less than 1 gram of fat.

In addition to nuts and beans, natural peanut butter and other nut butters are heart-healthy choices. You can choose to eat 2–4 tablespoons of natural, unsweetened nut butter per week.


Poultry, such as chicken or turkey, is a top low fat protein source. One serving of poultry is associated with a 19 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease than 1 serving of red meat per day.

Take care to choose options that are truly lower in fat. For example, choose skinless chicken breasts over fried chicken patties. Trim away any visible fat and remove the skin when you prepare poultry dishes.

Low-fat dairy

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests choosing the lower fat versions of the following high fat items:

  • milk
  • cheese
  • yogurt
  • sour cream

Although eggs are not technically a dairy product, the CDC also recommends using egg whites or pasteurized egg white products instead of whole eggs with yolks.

An older research review, however, does suggest that 70 percent of people have little to no change in cholesterol levels with whole egg consumption.

This same review also suggests that a potential 30 percent of people who eat whole eggs are considered “hyper-responders” and may see increases in a specific type of LDL, called pattern A, which is less heart disease-promoting than pattern B LDL.

How do you determine how much of these heart-healthy proteins to eat? Generally, 10–30 percent of your daily calories should come from protein. The Recommended Dietary Allowance of protein needed each day is as follows:

  • Women (ages 19+): 46 grams
  • Men (ages 19+): 56 grams

For example, 1 cup of milk has 8 grams of protein, 6 ounces of salmon has 34 grams of protein, and 1 cup of dried beans has 16 grams of protein. These add up to about the amount of protein that an adult man would need for an entire day.

Consider your protein needs within the context of an overall healthy eating plan. By doing so, you’ll be putting yourself on track for better heart health.