Proteins and your heart health

Created with the Heart Foundation
meats, fish, fruit, vegetables and nuts that help protect your heart

They can help you build muscle and strength, give you energy and protect your heart – but not all proteins are the same. Here’s how to build heart health by choosing the right balance of proteins.

Legumes

Eat it: No set limit; aim for 3-4 times per week.

Serving size: 150g of cooked or tinned beans.

Good sources: Beans, chickpeas, lentils, split peas and soybeans. 

Legumes (also known as pulses) are plant-based sources of protein. With a low glycaemic index, they’re packed full of soluble fibre, micro-nutrients and healthy fats. What’s more, they’re linked to lower total cholesterol levels, which can help lower your risk of heart disease. 

Add them to soups and salads, eat roasted chickpeas as an on-the-go snack, make your own hummus, or substitute lentils or chickpeas for mince in homemade burger patties. 

A bowl of legume soup topped with herbs and sour cream

Fish and seafood

Eat it: 2-3 times per week.

Serving size: 150g of fresh fish (the size of your hand) or 100g of unflavoured tinned fish.

Good sources: Whiting, trout, basa, prawns, oysters, scallops, calamari, crab and mussels. Oily fish like salmon, tuna and fresh or tinned sardines and mackerel have the highest levels of omega-3 fats.

Fish and seafood are great sources of protein that are low in saturated fat and rich in omega 3. Diets rich in fish are consistently associated with lower rates of heart disease and stroke. Fresh, frozen and tinned fish/seafood are all good sources of protein, but be mindful of the salt content of tinned fish and opt for unflavoured options.

Add tinned tuna or salmon to sandwiches or healthy salads, enjoy baked or steamed fish parcels as a simple dinner option, or add seafood marinara mixes to stir-fries and pasta dishes.  

A seafood platter

Eggs

Eat it: A maximum of seven eggs a week for people with high LDL cholesterol, type 2 diabetes or existing heart disease. No set limit for other people.

Serving size: 1 egg.

Eggs are a complete source of protein with the added benefits of vitamins like A, E and B12, among other nutrients. They also contain cholesterol. 

For most people, the evidence shows that eggs neither remarkably increase or decrease the risk of heart disease; however, if you’ve got high LDL cholesterol (that’s the bad one!), type 2 diabetes or existing heart disease, make sure you stick to eating seven or fewer per week. For everyone else, there’s no set limit; however, eating 2-3 egg-based meals per week or a daily egg on toast will leave enough space in your diet for other protein sources. 

Eat hard-boiled eggs as a snack, with avocado and wholegrain toast as a healthy breakfast, or in salads or sandwiches for a filling lunch. 

Three fried eggs in capsicums with a whisk beside the plate

Poultry

Eat it: No set limit; aim for 2-3 times per week.

Serving size: 100g (the size of your palm).

Good sources: Chicken, turkey, duck and other birds.

Poultry is a great source of protein that’s packed with niacin, vitamin A, magnesium and zinc too. While there’s no maximum limit for how much poultry you can eat, it’s worth keeping in mind that variety is key – eat it as part of a balanced diet along with other protein sources.

Cook chicken for your evening meal and use leftovers on a sandwich or in a salad the following day. Reduce your saturated fat intake by opting for lean cuts (like breast meat) and removing any skin. 

A whole roast chicken with asparagus on the side

Red meat

Eat it: 1-3 times a week.

Serving size: Maximum of 350g. 

Good sources: Beef, veal, pork, lamb, game meats, mutton and kangaroo. 

Red meat is the most common animal-based protein source. It’s got lots of goodies in it including iron, zinc and vitamin B12, which builds bone and muscle and helps our bodies repair. 

But take note: red meat has also been found to moderately increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. It may also lead to weight gain. Opt for lean cuts, remove visible fat before cooking, and limit both serving sizes and frequency of meat-based meals to optimise your heart health. 

Roast lamb in a baking dish with vegetables

A note on processed meats

Processed meat includes smoked meat and cured meat products like ham, bacon, chorizo, prosciutto, pancetta, pastrami, meat spreads, salami, sausages, hot dogs, devon and other luncheon and deli meats.  

But, while these products may have been a staple of your childhood school lunch box, there’s a consistent link between eating processed meats and an increased risk of heart disease and some cancers. In short? Avoid them – your heart will thank you for it.  


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Coles has partnered with the Heart Foundation to provide this content to you and help Australians live healthier and happier lives.

For personalised heart health information and support, contact the Heart Foundation Helpline 13 11 12.

 

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