Protein does more than just give you fuel, repair muscles, and curb hunger — it could keep your blood pressure in check too. A new study from Boston University found that healthy adults who ate the most protein per day (about 100 grams) were 40 percent less likely to develop hypertension than those who consumed the least (roughly 58 grams).
The researchers analyzed the diets of more than 1,300 people ages 30 to 54 and tracked their blood pressure over 11 years. Throughout the study, participants with the highest protein consumption consistently had the lowest blood pressure, including those who were overweight. The men and women in the middle group — which averaged 78 grams of protein per day — also benefitted. They had a 27 percent lower risk of high blood pressure compared with those who consumed the least amount of protein.
Experts have several reasons why protein might be such a boon for the heart. "Protein has some direct blood pressure lowering effects, which have been shown both in human and animal studies," says Justin Buendia, who co-authored the study. Scientists have found that dairy proteins contain compounds that act as natural ACE inhibitors — one of the most common types of blood pressure medication. Buendia adds that animal proteins, especially eggs, contain high levels of arginine, which has been shown to dilate blood vessels and lower blood pressure.
Protein can also keep you from overindulging and gaining weight — two things that increase your chances of high blood pressure, says Lynne Moore, another coauthor. By releasing certain hormones in the body, protein often makes people feel full for longer, reducing the tendency to overeat.
Interestingly, it didn't matter whether the subjects ate mostly animal proteins, like steak, eggs, and dairy, or plant-based proteins, such as beans and nuts. What mattered when it came to blood pressure was the total amount of protein consumed throughout the day.
Getting the daily 100-gram quota of protein is easier than you think. A cup of milk, an egg, a carton of regular yogurt, and 1 ounce of cheese, nuts, or cooked meat all contain about 7 or 8 grams of protein each, says Moore. "So think about a turkey sandwich. With just 1 ounce of meat, you get about 8 grams of protein, while 1 ounce of cheese has maybe 8 grams, and the whole-grain bread offers about 5 grams per slice." If you have a glass of milk with your sandwich, there's another 8 grams. That meal adds up to 34 grams of protein. And with 25 to 35 grams of protein at every meal — plus a snack or two in between — you're bound to get both 100 grams a day and a healthier heart.