The dietary benefits of eating the right amount of protein are well known, but new research indicates just how big of an impact different kinds of protein-rich food sources can have on our health.
According to a study by the University of East Anglia in the UK, the high levels of certain amino acids in some foods can boost cardiovascular health in ways comparable to making major changes to your lifestyle, such as getting more exercise or even quitting smoking.
"Results from previous studies have provided evidence that increased dietary protein may be associated with lower blood pressure," said Amy Jennings, lead author, in a statement. "We wanted to know whether protein from animal sources or plant-based sources was more beneficial – so we drilled down and looked at the different amino acids found in both meat and vegetables."
The researchers analysed seven different amino acids – arginine, cysteine, glutamic acid, glycine, histidine, leucine, and tyrosine – investigating how each affected the cardiovascular health of women with a healthy BMI.
The data of almost 2,000 women was included in the study, and the findings, published in The Journal of Nutrition, showed that those who consumed the highest amounts of amino acids had lower blood pressure and arterial stiffness.
"The really surprising thing that we found is that amino acid intake has as much of an effect on blood pressure as established lifestyle risk factors such as salt intake, physical activity and alcohol consumption," said Jennings. "For arterial stiffness, the association was similar to the magnitude of change previously associated with not smoking."
The researchers found that higher intake of amino acids from animal sources (glutamic acid, leucine, and tyrosine) was most strongly associated with lower levels of arterial stiffness; conversely, while all seven amino acids result in lower blood pressure, those from vegetables reduce blood pressure the most.
Given high blood pressure can lead to developing cardiovascular problems such as stroke or heart disease, getting the right amount of amino acids from both animal and plant-based sources could very well help you live longer.
"Increasing intake from protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, dairy produce, beans, lentils, broccoli, and spinach could be an important and readily achievable way to reduce people's risk of cardiovascular disease," said Jennings.
Not that you should just load up on second or third portions of things like T-bone steaks, cheese, prawns, and all that other good stuff winking at you from the buffet. The amount of protein we should actually be eating each day is still pretty small.
"Beneficial daily amounts equate to a 75 g portion of steak, a 100 g salmon fillet, or a 500 ml glass of skimmed milk," said Jennings.
Not exactly all you can eat! But then again, nobody ever said getting more exercise or quitting smoking was meant to be easy either, so why should this be any different?