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Choosing the Right Proteins for a Healthy Heart

By Laura Giménez, RDN

Some health gurus preach the importance of a high protein diet, but there are recent studies that connect high-protein diets to cardiovascular disease. So how do you know what’s right and what’s wrong?

Saturated Fat vs Poly-Unsaturated Fat

Saturated fat can be found in fatty-animal foods such as bacon, butter, full-fat dairy, and fattier cuts of meat and poultry such as filet mignon, chicken thighs, or pork ribs. Excess consumption of saturated fat can lead to elevated LDL, or lousy cholesterol, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Inversely, poly-unsaturated fat can be found in fatty fishes such as salmon, mackerel, herring, and tuna as well as nuts, and seeds. Inclusion of poly-unsaturated fats into your diet may help lower your LDL cholesterol, resulting in a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Thus, in order to enjoy meals with high protein without sacrificing your heart-health:

Opt for fish two to three times a week: Fish will provide complete and high-quality protein with the added benefits of cholesterol-lowering omega-3 fatty acids. Start small by incorporating fish into non-traditional areas of your diet such as snack time. Try tuna salad with whole-grain crackers for a satisfying, protein-rich and heart-healthy snack!

Choose vegetarian protein sources: Examples of such include tofu, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds. Not only do these foods include saturated-fat free forms of protein, but they also boast heart-healthy fiber. Try topping your salad with sunflower seeds for additional protein, fiber and crunch.

Select leaner cuts of animal protein: The USDA defines lean meat as having less than 4.5 grams of saturated fat per 3.5 oz. serving. Examples include most poultry breast such as chicken and turkey breast, cuts of beef such as sirloin, flank steak, top loin, top round and cuts of pork such as pork tenderloin and center loin. An easy way to tell whether a cut of meat is lean or not is fat marbling. Albeit delicious, marbling is a sure fire way of determining proteins high in saturated fat; save these proteins for special occasions vs. daily consumption. Lastly, remember to limit saturated fat intake to no more than 10 percent of your daily calories. Moreover, for those who already have elevated cholesterol, the American Heart Association recommends limiting calories from saturated fat to no more than 7 percent. Ask your registered dietitian what specific protein and saturated fat goals you should stick to in order to reap the benefits of protein while benefiting your heart.

Registered Dietitian Laura Giménez, RDN, practices at Hackensack Meridian Health Raritan Bay Medical Center on an outpatient basis. She also provides nutrition counseling as part of the Institute for Weight Loss at Raritan Bay-Old Bridge. To schedule an appointment for nutrition counseling, call 732-324-3236. To find a provider near you, visit

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.



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