Eating Heart-Healthy Protein From Different Sources May Lower High Blood Pressure

Research shows eating a diverse, balanced diet can help support heart health.

  • Research shows that diversifying your protein intake is beneficial for your heart because it can help decrease your risk of developing high blood pressure.
  • You can diversify your protein intake by practicing meatless Mondays, prepping protein ahead of time, or trying a blended burger.
  • There are all kinds of ways to get protein variety in your diet.

Getting heart-healthy protein from a wide variety of sources may help adults lower their risk of developing high blood pressure (known as hypertension) and other cardiovascular diseases, according to a 2022 study published in the journal Hypertension. The findings suggest even further that proper nutrition—specifically consuming a balanced, varied diet—can help support cardiovascular health.

Here's what to know about the study, how protein intake impacts heart health, and how to expand your diet in a way that may be beneficial.

Dinner table spread of dishes containing different types of protein: fish, shrimp, chicken and pork
Getty / Brett Stevens

What Happened in the 2022 Study?

Researchers analyzed data from more than 12,000 participants that self-reported three consecutive days of meals, along with a household food inventory during each survey.

From that information, participants were given a "variety score" showing how many different types of protein they ate.

After six years, researchers followed up with the participants to see which patients eventually developed new-onset hypertension—either through readings, newly-prescribed blood pressure medications, or self-reported doctor diagnoses. New-onset hypertension was defined in the study as having a blood pressure of 140/90 or above, hypertension diagnosed by a healthcare provider, or using medication for hypertension during a follow-up.

Of the 12,000+ participants, 35% went on to develop new-onset hypertension. Researchers found that participants who ate four or more types of protein each week had a 66% lower risk of developing high blood pressure, compared to those who had a lower protein variety score (fewer than two sources).

How Does Protein Impact Your Heart?

Diets are made up of three main components known as macronutrients: "Along with fat and carbohydrates, protein is one of the three basic macronutrients," an author of the 2022 study Xianhui Qin, MD said in a press release with the American Heart Association. Proteins are molecules that are made up of important amino acids, or "building blocks" to support the structure, function, and regulation of tissues and organs.

The 2022 study found that people who consumed a high variety of protein—from at least four or more different animal, plant, or seafood sources—had a 66% lower risk of developing hypertension (high blood pressure), as compared to people who ate fewer types of protein.

This isn't the first time protein consumption has been linked to hypertension risk. A 2015 report found that adults who consume more dietary protein from either plant or animal sources have lower long-term risks of high blood pressure.

"The heart health message is that consuming a balanced diet with proteins from various different sources, rather than focusing on a single source of dietary protein, may help to prevent the development of high blood pressure," said Dr. Qin in the press release.

These two studies are especially important, given that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.—and hypertension is one of the main risk factors for the disease. In the press release, Dr. Qin said, "Nutrition may be an easily accessible and effective measure to fight against hypertension."

Why Is a Variety of Protein Important?

"This study re-emphasizes the importance to have a diet that provides the vitamins and minerals your body and heart need to have good blood flow for optimal blood pressure values," Michelle Routhenstein, RD, a cardiology dietitian and certified diabetes educator, told Health.

Each protein source has unique nutrients that can offer heart-health benefits. "Legumes are high in potassium, which helps reduce the tension in the arteries, allowing for better blood flow," said Routhenstein. "Fish is a good source of selenium, which helps reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the body, two contributors to heart disease and high blood pressure."

Fish—specifically fish oils—also relaxes blood vessels and improves insulin sensitivity, both of which reduce hypertension risk, Barry Silverman, MD, an Atlanta-based cardiologist, told Health.

How Can You Diversify Your Protein Intake?

There are some dietary guidelines that can improve your cardiovascular health. One suggestion—among getting adequate physical activity and minimizing added sugars and salts—is to include sources of lean or high-fiber protein.

Protein sources include:

  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Legumes and lentils
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Poultry
  • Red meat
  • Soy or soybean
  • Tempeh
  • Whole grains

You should eat one to two servings—or a total of 5.5 ounces—of protein each day, and there are a few small, simple steps to take that can help you add protein diversity to your diet, potentially lowering your risk of developing high blood pressure.

Practice Meatless Monday

If meat and potatoes meals are your go-to, avoiding meat for one day a week can be impactful. Instead of sticking with your usual routine, try leaning on dishes like grain bowls, bean soups, and tofu stir fry every Monday.

You can also start by picking one meal out of your week and adapting it to be more plant-based. Over time, incorporating more plants into your eating routine can go a long way by reducing saturated fats from animals and adding more fiber for heart health. Get creative by modifying recipes from your favorite dishes and most importantly, make it fun.

Prep Proteins Ahead of Time

Meal prepping in advance can help you stay consistent with eating a variety of proteins. Many types of meat can be preserved nicely by freezing. From fish to beef to chicken, keeping frozen cuts of meat close by simplifies dinner prep and gives you options. Marinated meats can be stored in the freezer and ready for whenever you want to prepare them. You can also freeze cooked meats and then reheat them in the oven or air fryer.

Defrost your meat of choice overnight in the refrigerator, and marinate it during the day to allow for an easy protein-packed dinner that varies every day of the week.

Try a Plant-Forward Burger

If you can't do without your classic cheeseburger, try a blended version: half ground beef and half lentils. You can make your own burger at home with ground beef that is 90% lean and 10% fat and substitute half of the beef with blended lentils. You can also add an egg as an emulsifier and season it well. These different proteins will add a variety of micronutrients to your diet.

Start Your Day With Protein

Beginning your day with a variety of protein sources can help you get a head start on meeting your protein variety quota.

Making an egg scramble with smoked salmon, black beans, shrimp, or even chicken breast can fuel your body with more than one variety on your plate. Pair your eggs with a slice of whole-grain toast for a third protein source. Don't forget to add fruits or vegetables to complete the meal.

Try Something New

Many people are creatures of habit and may lean on certain protein sources more than others without even realizing it. If you're trying to eat a wider variety of protein, keep track of what you're consuming for a few days to take inventory of how many servings of each protein source you're getting.

If you are eating one type of protein more frequently than others, make a point to swap it out with one you could include more often. For instance, if you find you're eating poultry every single day, try eating poultry only three times a week and subbing eggs, legumes, fish, or other protein sources on the remaining four days.

Other Ways to Lower Your Risk of Hypertension

Having hypertension puts you at an increased risk of developing other conditions like heart disease and stroke. While adding new protein sources to your diet can reduce your risk of hypertension, it isn't the only way to do so. Other dietary choices and lifestyle modifications have also been shown to help keep a hypertension diagnosis at bay.

The following are ways to reduce your risk of hypertension:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Be physically active
  • Don't smoke cigarettes
  • Limit alcohol intake (one drink per day for women; two drinks per day for men)
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet (which includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, legumes, non-tropical vegetable oils, and nuts)
  • Limit sodium, sweets, saturated fats, sugar-sweetened beverages, and red meats
  • Try to incorporate more plant-based foods into your everyday diet

While there's no overnight trick to maintaining healthy blood pressure, implementing the above habits into your routine can help and maybe the small changes your body needs.

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  1. Zhou C, Wu Q, Ye Z, et al. Inverse association between variety of proteins with appropriate quantity from different food sources and new-onset hypertension. Hypertension. 2022;79(5):1017-1027. doi:10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.121.18222

  2. American Heart Association. Eating protein from a greater variety of sources may lower risk of high blood pressure.

  3. MedlinePlus. What are proteins and what do they do?

  4. Buendia JR, Bradlee ML, Singer MR, Moore LL. Diets higher in protein predict lower high blood pressure risk in Framingham Offspring Study adultsAm J Hypertens. 2015;28(3):372-379. doi:10.1093/ajh/hpu157

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart disease facts.

  6. American Heart Association. Eating a wide variety of proteins may lower risk for high blood pressure.

  7. American Stroke Association. High blood pressure and stroke.

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Know your risk for heart disease.

  9. American Heart Association. How can I reduce high blood pressure?

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