Shaking up your eating routine could be healthier than you realize.
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Credit: Jason Donnelly

High blood pressure is a concern for many Americans—about 47% of adults in the U.S. have hypertension or are taking medicine for hypertension, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). However, only one in four adults with hypertension has their condition "under control."

Consistently high blood pressure can eventually damage arteries and increase risk for heart disease, so it's important to do what you can to lower your risk. Certain healthy eating patterns, like the DASH (or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, can help create a holistic eating plan that supports a healthy blood pressure, and incorporating good-for-you foods like watermelon, legumes and potatoes could help as well. And now new research shows that widening the variety of protein sources you eat may go a long way to helping lower your risk for high blood pressure.

The study published in Hypertension analyzed information from more than 12,000 Chinese adults who took part in the China Health and Nutrition Survey from 1997 to 2015. Each subject took the survey at least twice, and researchers used their first response as a baseline and their last response as a follow-up measure for comparison. Generally, there were about six years between the responses used.

In the surveys, participants detailed what they had eaten in the past three days, submitted a household food inventory and shared other health information. To sort the participants based on their protein intake, the researchers created a list of eight possible protein sources, including whole grains, refined grains, processed red meat, unprocessed red meat, poultry, fish, egg and legumes. Each participant was given a score of one through eight based on how many different sources of protein they consumed over the three-day period. 

When researchers evaluated those scores alongside data concerning new onset hypertension, they found that those who ate four or more types of protein during the week were 66% less likely to develop high blood pressure compared to those who ate two or fewer types of protein each week. 

"The heart health message is that consuming a balanced diet with proteins from various different sources, rather than focusing on a single source of dietary protein, may help to prevent the development of high blood pressure," author Xianhui Qin, M.D., said in a media release.

The study also divided the participants into five groups based on the amount of protein they ate in relation to how many calories they consumed over the three days. Those in the most polar groups, who ate either less than 10.6% of their calories from protein or more than 14% of their calories from protein, had the highest risk for hypertension. The American Heart Association recommends eating one or two servings of protein each day, or around 5.5 ounces. (Different proteins will have different serving sizes, so you'll want to check with our guide to make sure you're serving up the perfect portion.)

This study is observational, so further research is needed to assess the impact of varied eating on high blood pressure, but it's not the first time we've heard great things about shaking up your protein routine. While this study didn't look at which protein sources were the best for your blood pressure, we already know that seeking out plant-based protein is a great choice for your heart health. A 2021 study in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that eating a plant-based diet could lower your risk for heart disease, and swapping in beans and legumes for meat can help you keep high blood pressure at bay.

The Bottom Line

Adding different sources of protein to your routine may lower your risk of high blood pressure, especially if you try to incorporate at least four sources of protein into your diet each week. Study participants who reported eating four or more protein sources—including whole grains, refined grains, processed red meat, unprocessed red meat, poultry, fish, egg or legumes—had a 66% lower risk for high blood pressure compared to those who consumed just two or fewer proteins.

If you need some protein-spiration, look to healthy sources like salmon, eggs, pasta and lean beef to add a protein boost to your next meal. Plant-based proteins like legumes, nuts and whole grains can add some additional heart-healthy benefits, too. As long as you balance protein with the other things on your plate, like grains, veggies and fruit, you'll know you're on your way to a heart-healthy lifestyle.