Proteins are involved in virtually every cellular function in our body. Some proteins help to rebuild and repair body tissues, while others are involved in the manufacture of hemoglobin (the red blood cells that carry oxygen in your body). Certain proteins are responsible for structural support, and others defend our bodies against germs and pathogens. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This explains why making sure we get enough dietary protein every day can be so important to our overall health.
Not only that, but dietary protein helps increase fat burning and makes you feel fuller longer, which can often lead to weight loss. And now, a recent study has found that dietary protein can even lower blood pressure in overweight adults.
The study was a randomized, double-blind trial that compared the effects of a higher-protein diet versus a higher-carbohydrate diet on blood pressure. Ninety-nine men and women were included in the study. All were overweight and between the ages of 20 and 70, with untreated prehypertension or mild hypertension (130–159 mmHg/85–99 mmHg).
Researchers randomly assigned the participants to either the higher-protein or higher-carbohydrate diet. For both diets, individuals received their carbohydrates or protein via a shake that contained either maltodextrin (a glucose polymer, similar to starch-like foods) or Agglomix (protein).
During the four-week intervention, the participants paid weekly visits to a dietician, who weighed them, measured their blood pressure, and advised them on their diets.
Ninety-four participants completed the study (51 in the maltodextrin group, 43 in the protein group). Regardless of the diet they were assigned, both groups experienced no significant changes in their weight. Blood pressure was a different story, though.
At the end of the fourth week, researchers saw differences in blood pressure between the two groups. Compared to the maltodextrin, the systolic (top number) blood pressure in the protein group was 4.9 mmHg lower, and the diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure was 2.7 mmHg lower.
These reductions may not seem like much, but they could potentially be life-saving. Researchers state in their discussion that if a reduction of 5 mmHg in systolic blood pressure can be attained throughout the entire population, it could result in a 14 percent risk reduction in stroke mortality and a 9 percent risk reduction in coronary heart disease mortality.
How Much Protein Should You Consume?
The study participants in the protein group consumed 20 grams of protein in their shakes, in addition to whatever protein they were getting through their food. This protein supplement increased their protein intake to 25 percent of energy per day, and decreased their carbohydrate intake to 45 percent of energy. Twenty grams of protein is about the equivalent of one scoop of whey protein powder. So really, we’re not talking about extreme increases in protein consumption.
It’s always a good idea to evaluate what kinds of carbohydrates you’re consuming. If you eat a lot of white flour products or sugary, processed foods, it’s in the best interest of your health — and your blood pressure — to eliminate those from your diet.
And increasing your protein is not difficult to do. Here are some simple ways to add more healthy lean proteins to your diet:
1. Switch your yogurt to the Greek variety, which contains more protein than traditional yogurts.
2. Eat cottage cheese, which contains up to 28 grams of protein per cup.
3. Add a scoop or two of protein powder to a smoothie or shake.
4. Eat lean meats like chicken and turkey, as well as fish.
5. Start your day with some eggs (which can also help lower your cholesterol).
6. Snack on nuts like almonds, peanuts or walnuts.
 Teunissen-Beekman KF et al. Protein supplementation lowers blood pressure in overweight adults: effect of dietary proteins on blood pressure (PROPES), a randomized trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;95:966–71.