Follow Your Heart to Better Health with Lean Protein

a plate of fish and vegetables

Did you know that February is American Heart Month? For the month of February, we will be highlighting the different food groups in MyPlate and how you and your family can easily incorporate them into a heart healthy diet.

Go Lean with Protein

This week’s topic focuses on protein foods group, which is made up of not just animal proteins such as red meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs, but also plant proteins such as nuts, beans, and soy products. Protein acts as a building block for the muscles, blood, tissues, and bones in the body. Many foods containing protein also contain B vitamins and magnesium, which help in metabolism, iron for oxygen transport in the blood, and zinc for a healthy immune system.


Are You Getting Enough Lean Protein? 

According to MyPlate, protein needs are dependent on age, sex, and activity level. It is important to get enough protein to keep the body and heart healthy, however, it’s also important to balance the types of protein foods you eat to support heart health. Red meats, such as beef, pork, and processed meats, like beef jerky, salami and ham, have higher levels of saturated fats than other protein sources, and should be eaten in moderation. Eating too many foods high in saturated fats can raise LDL cholesterol, leading to an increase risk of heart disease. If you choose to eat read meats, there are still ways to make healthy choices. For example, try choosing lean cuts, such as packaging that says loin, sirloin, or round; selecting lean or extra lean ground beef (no more than 15% fat); or using healthier cooking methods when preparing your meals, such as baking, boiling, stewing, or roasting. 

Common examples of lean protein foods can include fish, nuts, seeds, shellfish, poultry, beans, and soy products. To celebrate American Heart Month and every month, try incorporating more lean meats into your weekly meals. 

  • Select seafood, nuts, and seeds for their omega-3 fatty acids: Fatty fishes - salmon and albacore tuna - and plant proteins - walnuts and chia seeds - contain unsaturated fats that can improve heart health! The omega-3 fatty acids in fatty fish, seeds, and nuts can help to reduce blood triglyceride levels, decrease risk of heart disease, and even lower the risk of the most common type of stroke. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least two times per week to benefit from the heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids that they contain. For meal inspiration, try adding nut butter to whole grain toast and topping it with your favorite stone fruit; blending chia seeds with spinach and 100% orange juice to make a healthy smoothie; or glazing salmon with a sweet chile sauce to pair with asparagus. 
  • Choose beans for their versatility: Beans are also a heart healthy choice since they are high in dietary fiber, which can reduce the risk of heart disease. Add beans to soups, stews, casseroles, enchiladas, shakshuka, or burger patties by mashing black or garbanzo beans. 
  • Pick lean poultry: Lean poultry like chicken and turkey can also be a heart healthy choice since they are lower in saturated fat compared to red meat. Try replacing ground beef with ground turkey instead in your next meatloaf or selecting chicken apple sausage for breakfast instead of bacon.

Small changes like these can reduce the amounts of saturated fats in your diet and improve your overall heart health!


Balancing your protein options can not only provide delicious flavors to weekly snacks and meals, but can also provide an important source of zinc, iron, and B vitamins to your diet. For more information on picking heart healthy protein foods, visit the American Heart Association's website.