According to the WHO (World Health Organization) and the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death in developed countries like the U.K., the U.S., Canada, and Australia. In the U.S. alone, almost 11.5 percent of the total adult population are diagnosed with heart disease and/or heart problems. And approximately one in every four deaths in the U.S. is caused by heart disease.
It’s no wonder that people are concerned about their heart health. The increasing statistics surrounding cardiovascular disease is one of the main reasons for the mushrooming of so many fitness memberships across the country. Heart disease also plays a crucial role in the improvement of overall health, as one of the top five reasons why people attempt to quit smoking.
While exercising and quitting smoking will definitely help reduce the risk of heart disease, a new study has found that eating foods rich in amino acids – chicken, fish, steak, protein shakes, protein bars – can ramp up your cardiovascular activity as much as quitting smoking or getting more exercise.
Of course, it goes without saying that a protein rich diet may even help you lose weight in a safer and more efficient way than counting calories does.
Researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA) studied the effects of several amino acids on heart health and artery health in nearly 2,000 women with healthy body mass indexes (BMI). For the study, the researchers used data from TwinsUK, the biggest U.K. adult twin registry. The ultimate aim of the study was to determine which was more beneficial – protein from animals or protein from plants.
As part of the study, the researchers analyzed seven amino acids — histidine, leucine, arginine, cysteine, glycine, glutamic acid, and tyrosine — and found that higher intakes of all seven was directly proportional to lower measures of blood pressure and arterial stiffness. But there was a difference in the results that was brought upon by the source of the protein.
A higher intake of plant-based food was linked to lower blood pressure, while lower levels of arterial stiffness were due to increased intake of animal protein.
According to lead researcher Dr. Amy Jennings, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, eating more protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, dairy, beans, lentils, broccoli, and spinach could be the ideal way of reducing people’s risk of cardiovascular disease.
What really surprised the researchers was the difference a protein-rich diet could make to heart health. They knew that a protein rich diet would decrease the risk of heart disease, but they did not expect it to have as much of an effect on blood pressure as established lifestyle risk factors such as alcohol consumption, salt intake, and physical activity.
The fact that high intake of animal protein reduced arterial stiffening as much as not smoking also came as a surprise.
Benefits of a high protein diet other than heart health
Having said that, cardiovascular health is just one of the many benefits of a protein-rich diet. Amino-acids are needed to fuel your muscles, help you lose weight, and improve cellular metabolism.
Trying to lose weight fast is one of the common reasons to opt for a high protein diet. That’s because protein is used as an energy source for your muscles and is not stored by the body in the same way fat is stored. A high protein diet is almost always accompanied by a low carbohydrate intake, so the body has no option but to burn stored fat as a source of fuel. In fact, a study published in Current Opinion in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Obesity reveals that a high protein intake with limited carbs can result in effective weight loss and a well-balanced muscle to fat ratio.
High protein plays a crucial role in enhancing your mood, as can be seen by the results of a study published in Appetite. The in-depth study compared the psychological effects of low protein, high carbohydrate intake, with high protein, low carbohydrate intake. The researchers found that the participants who took a high protein, low carb diet showed improved self-esteem, an increase in overall feelings of well-being, and were not easily depressed.
Your overall metabolism increases with high protein intake. The reason for this is that proteins are the building blocks of muscle and they promote muscle synthesis. You require a lot of energy to create, repair, and maintain muscle mass. The same is not true for the maintenance of fat. When you increase your intake of protein, you automatically help increase lean muscle mass and promote fat burning. Thereby increasing your overall metabolism, or basal metabolic rate (BMR).
Natural ways to your improve cardiovascular health
Just as there are more uses for protein than improving cardiovascular health, there are other ways of improving cardiovascular health than following a protein rich diet, not smoking, and exercising regularly. Here are four other important ways to improve cardiovascular health:
Up on fruits and vegetables – Fruits and vegetables are rich in phytonutrients and vitamins. Moreover, they are inexpensive, taste good, and are beneficial for everything in your body, from your brain to your bowels.
Eat a healthy breakfast – Start your day off on a healthy note. There is nothing like some fruit and a serving of whole grains, such as oatmeal, bran flakes, or whole-wheat toast to kick-start the day.
Drink water – Saying ‘no’ to just one sugar-sweetened soda or calorie-laden latte can easily save you more than 100 calories. That’s 36,500 calories a year. Roughly translated, that amounts to a 10-pound weight loss. If you feel thirsty, drink some water.
Wash your hands – Scrubbing up with soap and water frequently during the day is a great way to protect your heart and health. The flu, pneumonia, and other infections can be very hard on the heart.
As you can see, by making the right lifestyle choices, you can boost your heart health and improve your overall wellbeing. So, for your heart’s sake at least, be mindful of what you eat. And if you’re going to switch over to a high protein diet, remember that short-term high protein intake of three to four months is generally safe. However, long-term high protein intake, as well as high protein intake with carbohydrate restriction poses risks, so it’s best to consult a physician before you dive right in.