Protein and heart health
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

Protein and heart health

What are the best sources of protein when it come to your heart health

Key takeaways

  • Healthy protein foods impact your risk of heart disease in different ways 
  • Legumes (e.g. chickpeas, beans and lentils), and fish or seafood are the most beneficial sources of protein 
  • Eggs and poultry do not impact your risk of heart disease 
  • Red meat should be limited to less than 350g (1-3 meals) a week 
  • Processed meat can increase your risk of heart disease and should be avoided. 
3 min read

Protein is a macronutrient made up of amino acids that is essential to repairing and building bones and muscles in the body, energy and your heart. Healthy proteins from animal and plants can be included as part of a balanced diet. Opting for healthier proteins can help minimise your risk of heart disease.

Sources of healthy protein  

When choosing protein foods, include a variety of sources. Protein can be plant or animal based. They all provide different nutrients for your body. Each source of protein can have a beneficial, neutral or potentially harmful effect on your heart health and risk of heart disease. 

Legumes

Legumes (also known as pulses), are plant-based sources of protein. Legumes are great source of protein for vegans and vegetarians but can benefit everyone.  

Legumes include:  

  • All types of beans 
  • Chickpeas  
  • Lentils 
  • Split peas 
  • Soybeans 

Legumes contain soluble fibre, micro-nutrients, healthy fats and have a low glycaemic index (GI). These nutrients are linked to lower total cholesterol levels, which can help lower your risk of heart disease. 

How you can eat more legumes 

Legumes come either dried (uncooked) or tinned. When buying tinned options, make sure they contain no added salt.  

Here are some ways to include more legumes in your diet:   

  • Add legumes to soups and salads 
  • Eat roasted chickpeas as a snack on-the-go  
  • Serve hummus with vegetable sticks as a snack   
  • Substitute mince with lentils or chickpeas in homemade burger patties 

Serving size:  

1 cup (150g) of cooked or tinned beans, peas or lentils

 


Fish and seafood 

Eating more fish has been consistently associated with lower rates of heart disease and stroke, aim for 2-3 serves per week. Fish and seafood are great sources of protein that are low in saturated fat and rich in omega-3 fats, which are good for the heart. Since our bodies can’t produce omega-3 naturally, we need to eat foods that contain it. Oily fish is one of the best dietary sources of omega-3. 

Good sources of fish and seafood include: 

  • Whiting 
  • Trout  
  • Basa  
  • Prawns 
  • Oysters  
  • Scallops  
  • Calamari  
  • Crab  
  • Mussels 

Good sources of oily fish with the highest levels of omega-3 include:  

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Sardines (fresh or tinned)
  • Mackerel (fresh or tinned)  

How to eat more fish and seafood

Frozen seafood can be a cheaper and more convenient choice. When buying tinned seafood, be mindful of salt and other ingredients in flavoured tinned fish for opt for unflavoured. 

  • Add unflavoured tinned tuna or salmon as a sandwich filler or to top a healthy salad  
  • Enjoy baked or steamed fish parcels as a delicious and simple dinner option  
  • Add seafood marinara mixes to stir-fries and pasta dishes 
  • Grab a tin of tuna or salmon for on the go.  

Serving size: 

  • 150g of fresh fish (the size of your hand)
  • 100g of unflavoured tinned fish
  • Enjoy fish 2-3 times a week 

 


Eggs 

Eggs are a complete source of protein, vitamin A, E and B12, selenium choline and iron and cholesterol. However, the cholesterol in eggs has minimal effect on blood cholesterol. 

Foods high in saturated fat and trans-fat have the greatest impact on your cholesterol levels. The neutral relationship between eggs and heart health means eggs neither increase nor decrease the risk of heart disease in most people. 

How many eggs should you eat per week? 

The Heart Foundation does not set a limit on the number of eggs you should eat a week. However, some people are more sensitive to eating dietary cholesterol than others.  

A maximum of seven eggs a week is recommended for those with: 

  • High LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) 

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Existing heart disease 

What you eat with your egg matters 

Eggs can be eaten with balanced healthy meals or as a healthy snack option:  

  • Enjoy eggs and avocado on wholegrain toast as a healthy alternative to a bacon and egg roll  

  • Add eggs in salads or sandwiches or as a snack

 


Poultry 

Poultry is a good source of protein, niacin, vitamin A, magnesium and zinc. Poultry products include: 

  • Chicken 

  • Turkey 

  • Duck

  • Other birds 

The wings, thighs and breasts of birds all have different nutrient levels. Whether the skin is on or off also matters. Poultry has no known impact on heart disease.  

How much poultry should you eat per week? 

Eating poultry doesn’t increase or decrease the risk of heart disease. While there’s no maximum limit for how much poultry you should eat, it is not directly beneficial to heart health. Eating poultry should be part of a balanced diet, along with other sources of healthy protein.  

Serving size:  

  • One serve is 100g (the size of your palm)  

  • Remove the skin from products 

  • Choose lean cuts, like chicken or turkey breasts

 


Red meat  

Red meat is the most common animal-based source of protein. It provides iron, zinc and vitamin B12, which helps our bodies repair and build bones and muscles. 

Red meat includes: 

  • Beef 

  • Veal 

  • Pork 

  • Lamb 

  • Game meats 

  • Mutton

  • Kangaroo

Red meat health risks 

Evidence has found high red meat consumption moderately increases the risk of heart disease and stroke and may lead to weight gain. Type 2 diabetes is a risk factor for heart disease, so it’s important to limit red meat consumption.  

How much red meat should you be eating per week?  

Limiting red meat intake to 350 grams (or 1-3 meals) of lean meat a week can have a big impact on improving your heart health. 

On average, Australians are eating 1.6x more than the recommended 350 grams a week:  

  • One serve of red meat is 100g (the size of your palm)  

  • Two chops are a serve of red meat 

  • Remove visible fat before cooking and choose lean cuts of meat 

Unhealthy proteins: Processed meat 

Processed and deli meats are consistently linked to poor health outcomes. Processed meats can include sausages, ham, salami, beef jerky, and bacon. These products tend to be high in salt, additives and saturated fat, which are linked to a higher risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions. Eating well for your heart means avoiding or limiting the amount of processed meat you eat.  

Processed meats are preserved to last longer and can be: 

  • Cured 

  • Salted  

  • Smoked 

  • Dried

  • Tinned 

How to swap out processed meats with healthier alternatives  

  • Use roast chicken, unflavoured tinned tuna, or egg instead of ham in a sandwich

  • Make falafels or homemade veggie or meat patties instead of sausages

Picking your proteins 

Remember that no single food or nutrient promotes heart health over the other. It is the overall eating pattern that matters the most. Opting for healthier proteins can help minimise your risk of heart disease.

You might also be interested in

Five foods to help lower blood pressure

Five foods to help lower blood pressure

Five foods to help lower blood pressure

One the easiest steps you can take to prevent high blood pressure is choosing healthy foods....

Heart Healthy Dinner Plan

Heart Healthy Dinner Plan

Heart Healthy Dinner Plan

Sign up now and discover delicious, easy to follow dinner recipes. Plus shopping lists, tips and other helpful information to make healthy eating easy. ...

10 ways to get the right balance of fats 

10 ways to get the right balance of fats 

10 ways to get the right balance of fats 

Getting the right balance of fats in your diet can improve your heart health....

Heart Foundation recipes

Heart Foundation recipes

Heart Foundation recipes

Search all of our heart healthy recipes ...

Key healthy eating messages for heart attack recovery 

Key healthy eating messages for heart attack recovery 

Key healthy eating messages for heart attack recovery 

Eating healthy foods can help you recover and reduce your risk of more heart problems. ...

Five ways to lower cholesterol

Five ways to lower cholesterol

Five ways to lower cholesterol

Lower your cholesterol, whether you're eating breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert or even a snack....

Nutrition action plan

Nutrition action plan

Dairy and your heart health

Dairy and your heart health

Dairy and your heart health

Not all dairy products are equal. Discover different types of dairy foods and their impact on heart health....

Heart Foundation recipes

Heart Foundation recipes

Heart Foundation recipes

Check out our recipe categories to find your next heart healthy meal....

Nutrition after a heart attack

Nutrition after a heart attack

Nutrition after a heart attack

Discover key information on heart-healthy eating and drinking....

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation programs and resources to support your recovery....

Personal Walking Plan

Personal Walking Plan

Personal Walking Plan

Feel healthier and happier in six weeks with a free Personal Walking Plan...

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Join our community of fundraisers who are committed to taking action to fight heart disease....

Support us and help save Australian hearts

Support us and help save Australian hearts

Support us and help save Australian hearts

Join the fight against Australia’s biggest killer by supporting the Heart Foundation.  ...

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Are you at risk of heart disease?

Are you at risk of heart disease?

Are you at risk of heart disease?

There is no single cause for any one heart condition, but there are risk factors that increase your chance of developing one. ...

Aboriginal heart health

Aboriginal heart health

Aboriginal heart health

Visit the St Vincents Hospital NSW and Heart Foundation Aboriginal heart health website for more information...

Trek for Australian Hearts

Trek for Australian Hearts

Trek for Australian Hearts

Join the Heart Foundation in South Australia for the journey of a lifetime, trekking the ancient Flinders Ranges to help save Australian hearts....

Support for young adults: Online events

Support for young adults: Online events

Support for young adults: Online events

A series of virtual events for young adults on managing emotional wellbeing. ...

Heart disease and pregnancy

Heart disease and pregnancy

Heart disease and pregnancy

Pregnancy is often referred to as the “ultimate stress test” for the body....

MyMarathon

MyMarathon

MyMarathon

The fundraising race where you set the pace. Run, jog or walk MyMarathon at your own pace during October....

Heart Foundation Research Award Recipients

Heart Foundation Research Award Recipients

Explore our research award recipients and projects...

Heart Week

Heart Week

Heart Week

Monday 3 May – Sunday 9 May 2021...

Our research stories

Our research stories

Our research stories

We fund amazing researchers who have important stories to tell...

10 ways to get the right balance of fats 

10 ways to get the right balance of fats 

10 ways to get the right balance of fats 

Getting the right balance of fats in your diet can improve your heart health....

Our history

Our history

Our history

For more than 60 years the Heart Foundation has been helping improve heart health across the nation....

Kids recipes

Kids recipes

Kids recipes

Find heart healthy kids recipes...

Smoking and tobacco regulation

Smoking and tobacco regulation

There are still more than 20,000 deaths caused by smoking every year....

How to make healthier meals at home

How to make healthier meals at home

How to make healthier meals at home

Cooking at home is often healthier than eating out....

Order patient resources online

Order patient resources online

Search and order from our range of printed patient resources online. ...

Our strategy

Our strategy

Our strategy

Connecting Hearts Strategy 2021-2023...

What is heart disease?

What is heart disease?

What is heart disease?

Heart disease is the broad term for conditions that affect the structure and function of the heart muscle. ...

Heart Foundation delivers $17.2 million for cutting-edge heart research in a challenging year

Heart Foundation delivers $17.2 million for cutting-edge heart research in a challenging year

Heart Foundation delivers $17.2 million for cutting-edge heart research in a challenging year

Media Release 20 October 2020...

Heart Foundation recipes

Heart Foundation recipes

Heart Foundation recipes

Check out our recipe categories to find your next heart healthy meal....

Dessert recipes

Dessert recipes

Dessert recipes

Find heart healthy dessert recipes....

Absolute CVD risk clinical guidelines

Absolute CVD risk clinical guidelines

The Absolute Cardiovascular Disease Risk (CVD) Guidelines helps healthcare professionals identify, prevent and manage a person's risk of developing CVD. ...

Aussie men among the world’s most obese, new data

Aussie men among the world’s most obese, new data

Aussie men among the world’s most obese, new data

Media Release - 16 November 2020...

National tobacco strategy

National tobacco strategy

Frameworks supporting tobacco control in Australia ...

Register your cardiac service with the Heart Foundation

Register your cardiac service with the Heart Foundation

This cardiac services directory presents information on cardiac rehab programs offered across Australia....

Women's heart stories

Women's heart stories

Women's heart stories

Women's stories from around Australia...