Getting heart-healthy proteins into your diet

No food group offers more versatile protection from the causes of heart attacks than protein. But this food group can also pose a serious threat to your heart.

Some protein-rich foods are high in saturated fat, which raises your level of harmful low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and your heart attack risk.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada recommends that total fat intake be less than 30 percent of total calories. Here's how to enjoy a range of heart-healthy protein foods.

Getting heart-healthy proteins into your diet

Make a habit of eating seafood

The healthiest seafood for your heart is cold-water ocean fish because it's so rich in omega-3 fatty acids. The most popular kind is salmon; other choices include mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies and freshwater lake trout. Other seafood may not have as many omega-3s, but most are great sources of protein.

So if sautéed sole or shrimp appeals to you more than salmon — or a chicken breast or steak, for that matter — choose the seafood.

The best part is that the fish richest in omega-3s won't cost you a fortune at the fish market or force you to do any type of exotic or challenging cooking. Today, it's easier than ever to add heart-healthy seafood to your diet. A serving can be part of a side dish or the main course.

Do note, however, that Health Canada advises pregnant and nursing women, young children and older women of child-bearing age to eat swordfish, shark, king mackerel and fresh or frozen tuna no more than once a month.

If you really detest fish or can't eat shellfish, simply substitute another type of lean protein — and consider getting omega-3s from ground flaxseed or fish-oil capsules. Better still, include about 125 grams (4 1⁄2 ounces) of nuts in your week's diet, in studies they have been shown to cut cardiovascular risk. Plus, eating walnuts or almonds will provide essential minerals and may also help to reduce your cholesterol levels.

Other good sources of omega-3s are some dairy products, canola oil and omega-3 eggs.

Rediscover beef and pork

Both beef and pork can have a place in your heart-healthy eating plan. Both have been made healthier to suit modern tastes, and trimming all visible fat from beef or pork will go a long way to making it much healthier.

In one health study, volunteers who ate lean red meat five to seven days a week had the same slight improvements in cholesterol — their low density lipoprotein (LDL) levels dropped two percent, and high density lipoprotien (HDL) or "good" cholesterol levels rose three to four percent — as those who only ate chicken and fish.

The lowest-fat cuts available in butcher shops and grocery stores are generally pork tenderloin and lean beef such as round and loin.

Shift the focus to beans

Beans should feature on your lunchtime or dinner menu several days a week. Relatively few people take the trouble to cook bean-dish recipes but if you discover three or four that your family will enjoy, and then prepare one every few days, you will do wonders for your health.

One great way to cook with beans is making meatless chili. Or you could mix drained and rinsed canned kidney beans and frozen vegetables with a can of low-salt minestrone soup or chicken broth to create quick, hearty soup. Or try sprinkling chickpeas or black beans from the salad bar over your lunch salad.

Keep all this information in mind to help yourself to bring heart-healthy proteins into your diet.

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