There’s a lot of contradictory information out there about protein supplements and heart health. Some say that it can decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke. Other reports say it’s best to steer clear of protein supplements in order to protect the heart.
Today, we’re going to try and break down what everyone is saying so you can make an informed decision yourself. Protein supplements: Are they yay or nay?
Do whey protein supplements decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke?
According to research conducted at the University of Reading, in the UK, “Whey protein lowers blood pressure and improves endothelial function and lipid biomarkers in adults with prehypertension and mild hypertension.”
For everyone asking, “endothelial” is the thin membrane lining the inside of the heart and blood vessels. It is involved with contracting and relaxing. That is, with pumping out blood and accepting blood the flow back to the heart. Prehypertension and mild hypertension refer to high blood pressure.
In this UK study, participants who took whey protein supplements derived from milk, they had an estimated 8 percent reduction in risk for heart disease and stroke.
However, is it really that simple? Is drinking protein powder going to protect you from heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure?
How protein powder may support heart health
There are a few reasons why adding protein supplements to your diet can benefit your overall health. Let’s briefly examine them here.
#1: Lowers blood pressure
Research shows that supplementing with whey protein can help to lower high blood pressure after 12 weeks.
However, this same study found that consuming whey protein didn’t reduce inflammatory markers. This is noteworthy since inflammation is a key factor when it comes to cardiovascular disease.
#2: Improve heart muscle activity
This 2009 study found that the consumption of whey protein could improve the endothelial response in healthy individuals. That is, for people without any preexisting heart condition, whey protein may strengthen the heart muscles which pump and receive blood.
Hidden dangers in protein powder
In a September 2018 Harvard Health Letter, a Harvard dietician warns that protein powders may not be worth all the hype. Sure, they’re an easy way to consume protein – an essential building block or muscles, bones and the structural elements of the human body.
However, according to Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, “I don’t recommend using protein powders except in a few instances, and only with supervision.”
Why does McManus take such a strong position on protein powders?
Protein powders are usually made from either plant protein, or milk protein (like casein or whey protein). However, in addition to these natural ingredients, protein powders are also loaded with added sugars, artificial flavors, and thickeners. But there’s a lot of gray area when it comes to the contents of any given protein powder.
That’s because the FDA isn’t really involved in the safety and labeling of the products. Instead, the FDA leaves it up to the manufacturers to ensure that their product is safe and that the protein powder contains exactly what the product label says it does.
This liberty has left protein supplements on the market that are downright dangerous.
The Clean Label Project, for example, released a report about toxins in protein powders. They assessed 134 products, testing for 130 different types of toxins. To their dismay, they found that many protein powders contained heavy metals, like lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury.
Protein powders also contained contaminants linked to cancer and other health conditions. There was also high levels of bisphenol-A (BPA), which is used in plastic production, but which can be toxic in high amounts. Just to give you an idea, one protein supplement contained 25 times the safe level of BPA.
It’s hard to imagine how a sugary, flavored protein supplement that contains toxic heavy metals and BPA could be good for the heart, isn’t it?
Too much protein?
Yes, we need adequate protein for the health and wellbeing of our entire body. However, too much protein doesn’t do us any favors. In fact, too much protein intake can increase the risk of kidney disease, high blood sugar levels, and insulin resistance.
In fact, according to a report from Web MD, a diet high in protein can actually increase the risk for heart disease and earlier death. Now, this is not to say that if you add a scoop of protein powder to your morning smoothie, you’re going to usher in cardiovascular problems and premature death.
But it is important to understand that it’s very easy to overdo it on protein and that doing so has some pretty dire consequences in the long run.
Better protein sources?
If you are interested in taking care of your heart, there are plenty of better protein sources you can enjoy.
Sure, protein powders are tasty additions to your pre- or post-workout smoothie, but they’re also loaded with sugars and potentially dangerous substances – substances which the FDA will never inform you about because they’re not informed about it themselves.
You can satisfy your protein intake with whole foods that are much safer for both your heart and your overall health and wellbeing, too.
Bare in mind, we need protein, but we don’t need loads and loads of it. Women need about 46 grams of protein per day. Men need about 56 grams per day.
One egg contains roughly 6 grams of protein.
#2: Plain Greek Yogurt
The key here is to find unsweetened Greek yogurt. 6 ounces provides 18 grams of protein.
Just one handful of nuts can provide you with heart-healthy fats and up to 7 grams of protein, depending on the nut.
Chicken is a great source of lean protein, packing in 14 grams for every 2 ounces of cooked chicken.
Don’t forget about fish. Salmon and tuna are wonderful, nutrient-dense whole food sources of protein that provide plenty of heart-healthy fatty acids that are much better for you than any scoop of protein supplement.