Heart Health

Protein & the Heart


One highly misunderstood theory believed by many is that protein and the cardiovascular system don’t mix. This is due to the fact that high-protein diets place individuals at risk of developing high cholesterol levels and increases the likelihood of causing heart disease. Hence, most conventional doctors are apprehensive to encourage protein-rich foods for those suffering with heart conditions. However, some practitioners may argue that “good” types of proteins are beneficial for heart health.

In his book, “The Search for the Perfect Protein”, Dr. Minkoff described his experience in dealing with very ill patients who coincidentally were also protein malnourished. Here is where the confusion lies… If one attempts to stick with a strict vegetarian diet, but substitute meat substances with soy and tofu, their bodies are still lacking the proper amount of protein that is needed for fuel. Yet, if one were to consume too much protein, it can lead to a buildup of fatty plaque within the artery walls, thus causing cardiovascular disease. Regardless of which option one decides to take to move forward on a journey to wellness, in the end, it seems that they’ll end up right back to square one: feeling fatigued, suffering with a low immune system, and still experiencing issues with heart health. The question is, where’s the balance?

The answer: the problem isn’t the protein… the problem is the type of protein and the foods that our foods are eating (i.e. chicken, cow, etc.). The American Heart Association reports that the average American receives “more protein than is needed from meats high in saturated fat”¹. Saturated fat results in an elevation of low-density lipoproteins (LDL) cholesterol levels which causes blood clots, hardening of artery walls, and heart disease. However, this doesn’t mean that one should eradicate protein from their diet 100%. If more individuals understood the protein types, what they do and their effect on the heart and body, these issues might be easier to solve.

Types of Proteins and Their Effect on the Heart

There are two types of proteins: animal proteins and plant proteins. The main difference between each is their amino acid profile. Animal proteins are considered to be “complete” whereas plant proteins are “incomplete”. This means that plant proteins are missing at least one or more essential amino acids meanwhile animal proteins contain more essential amino acids that the body needs for nourishment. Amino acids are organic compounds combined together to form a source of protein. They are responsible for healing wounds, cell growth, bone strength, energy boosts, promote immunity and offer many benefits to the cardiovascular system. Dr. Joanna McMillan of Australia wrote in her blog that certain amino acids found in plant proteins help in lowering blood pressure and decreasing arterial stiffness². However, animal proteins contain more important minerals such as Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA, an essential omega 3 fat which is great for the heart), heme-iron (which contains iron for the blood), and zinc. What’s problematic about animal proteins is that they cause huge health concerns to the cardiovascular system due to certain factors:

  1. Red meat contains an increased amount of animal fat that could induce fatty plaque accumulation within our arteries.
  2. These once living creatures have digested foods that were laden with chemicals and pesticides, thus leading to inflammation and increasing cardiovascular conditions.

That is why amino acids taken via supplementation and consuming the right type of protein is extremely important to receiving a perfectly balanced diet while simultaneously improving heart health.

What is the Right Protein for the Heart?

Regardless of all the negative attributes that protein foods have for the cardiovascular system, it is still possible to eat meat without having to worry about developing heart disease. It’s all a matter of choosing the protein wisely. Some recommended protein selections are:

Fish: This is among one of the top protein foods that actually helps in reducing cardiovascular disease. Patients with heart conditions are often encouraged to eat fish about two to three times a week. This is because fish is a lean source of protein that contains fish oils and omega 3 minerals that benefits the heart. LifeWorks Wellness Center specifically recommends Salmon, Tuna, Trout, or Mackerel. However, be wary of bigger fish such as Grouper, Swordfish, Shark, and Marlin. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) both reported that these fish contain high levels of mercury or other toxins that are harmful to the cardiovascular system and other areas of the body³.

Organic Poultry: Healthline reports that “one serving of poultry is associated with a 19% lower risk of cardiovascular disease than one serving of red meat per day”¹. White meats within the breast of chicken and turkey are not harmful since these sections contain no fat. Organic eggs are also acceptable as a breakfast option. LifeWorks Wellness Center encourages free-range organic poultry to patients as these proteins are least likely to contain pesticides or toxins that cause inflammation. The dark meat and skin of either of these birds are often the most hazardous to our heart health, therefore it’s best to remove these sections while still receiving the right protein amounts.

Essential Amino Acid Supplements

Out of the 22 amino acids that the body uses to make proteins, only eight of them are classified as essential and unfortunately, our bodies aren’t capable of producing them. Therefore, we have to seek these essential amino acids from other sources. At LifeWorks Wellness Center, we highly encourage our patients to take BodyHealth’s PerfectAmino supplements which contain approximately three to six times the protein of other sources without the intake of calories or added fats. This is beneficial for those trying to improve their cardiovascular health while simultaneously getting the proper amount of protein in their body.

If you suffer from heart disease or are at risk of developing future heart conditions, please call to schedule an appointment with one of our practitioners at 727-466-6789.


About Dr. Minkoff

Dr. David Minkoff graduated from the University of Wisconsin Medical School in 1974 and was elected to the “Phi Beta Kappa” of medical schools, the prestigious Alpha Omega Alpha Honors Medical Fraternity for very high academic achievement. He then completed both a Pediatric Residency and a Fellowship in Infectious Disease at the University of California at San Diego. He worked at the University of California and Children’s Hospitals in San Diego as an attending physician in infectious disease while conducting original research on Ribaviron, a broad spectrum anti-viral agent to fight disease. He also co-directed a neo-natal intensive care unit and worked in emergency medicine. In 1992, Dr. Minkoff’s attended a lecture by Dr. Jeffrey Bland, widely considered the father of functional medicine, during which he had a eureka moment, and began pursuing the alternative health field with a vengeance, studying under the most accomplished thought leaders on natural & integrative healing. In 1997 Dr. Minkoff and his wife set up a small clinic to help friends with their medical problems. What began as an experiment blossomed into LifeWorks Wellness Center, one of the most successful clinics for complementary medicine in the United States.