Here’s the headline I saw: High Protein Foods as Good as Quitting Smoking or Exercising for Cardiovascular Health.
I always worry about headlines like these. Will someone think they can just eat more high protein foods and forgo exercise or continue to smoke? I certainly hope not and know that’s not what the researchers who did the study intended.
The great thing about this kind of specific research is that the more we learn the more we can do to better our health. Not only should you quit smoking and exercise regularly for your cardiovascular health, but you can also add some of these amino-acid-filled foods to your diet to ensure you’re doing all you can.
What does the study say?
It’s a recent study published by the University of East Anglia that reveals people who eat high levels of certain amino acids (those found in meat and plant-based proteins) have lower blood pressure and less arterial stiffness than those who don’t eat many of these amino acids.
Arterial stiffness is the term used to describe the elasticity of the arteries. Hardening or stiffening of the arteries is called arteriosclerosis and is associated with an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
Interestingly, the link was quite strong – just as strong as quitting smoking or partaking in regular exercise.
The interesting thing is that the link the researchers discovered wasn’t insignificant – in fact it was quite strong. They discovered that eating these amino acids appears to be as beneficial as adopting other lifestyle habits that lower the risk of heart disease, such as reducing salt intake, taking part in physical activity and quitting smoking.
Researchers studied data from TwinsUK, which is the biggest UK adult twin registry of 12,000 twins.
Those who consumed the highest amount of amino acids had significantly lower measures of blood pressure and arterial stiffness. Researchers were able to get quite specific looking at exact food sources. What they found is that each food source delivered a different benefit. Those who ate a higher intake of amino acids from plant-based source had lower blood pressure, while those who ate amino acids from animal sources had lower levels of arterial stiffness.
What are amino acids?
Amino acids are organic compounds that combine to form proteins. The human body uses amino acids to make all proteins in the body. They are essential for repairing and healing wounds, especially muscles, bones, skin and hair. Plus, they help remove waste products connected with metabolism.
There are three groups of amino acids: essential, nonessential and conditional. It’s the essential amino acids that we must get from our food – they cannot be made by the body. There are nine essential amino acids and they are: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptohan, and valine.
What should you eat?
On Get Lean we use the Dr Joanna Plate to ensure we have a good protein food in every meal. We know that this is important for appetite control but this new research suggests that this approach is also good for your heart and cardiovascular health. What this research also shows however is that including a combination of animal protein foods and plant protein foods into your diet has benefits. This is good news as these foods are delicious, provide a whole wealth of nutrients and phytochemicals.
You’ll find animal proteins in dairy foods such as cheese, yoghurt and milk, meat, seafood and eggs. Many plant foods also contain protein but the difference is in the levels of each amino acid. Vegetarians can combine different plant foods to ensure they eat the full array of the essential amino acids, but all of us would benefit by eating more of these foods. Legumes, nuts and seeds are amongst the best sources of plant protein, but you’ll also find protein in wholegrains such as oats, pseudograins like quinoa and amaranth, and even vegetables have small amounts.
Need some inspiration? Try these ideas:
5 Ways to get more plant proteins into your Get Lean menu
- Have a vegetarian meal on at least one night a week. You’ll find plenty of ideas in the Recipe Bank by using the filter to vegetarian choices in the search box.
- Have a can of baked beans on wholegrain toast for breakfast – add some wilted spinach and mushrooms for extra plant nutrition.
- Substitute half the meat in your bolognaise with lentils and kidney beans.
- Make a three bean salad with cannellini beans, garbanzo beans, and chickpeas. Toss with diced red onion, flat leaf parsley and tomato. Add a simple olive oil and vinegar dressing with cracked pepper. Buy alfalfa! This is one easy legume to toss in a salad or a sandwich.
- Add a can of borlotti beans to sautéed greens as a side to serve with a steak or fish fillet.
- Mash a can of chickpeas with a little extra virgin olive oil, garlic, a pinch of salt and plenty of black pepper and serve in place of mashed potatoes.
- Use marinated tofu in a stir fry in place of meat or seafood.
- Give Quorn (a vegetable protein meat substitute you’ll find in the freezer section of the supermarket) a shot in place of meat – minced Quorn makes a fantastic bolognese!
Related link: Foods For Heart Health
This article was originally published on Dr. Joanna McMillan’s site.