Protein is an important nutrient used for building and repairing tissues in the body. It can be sourced from animals or plants for dietary intake. High-protein diets were recommended for heart failure patients as they were associated with prolonged life, according to research presented at a European Society of Cardiology event in Vienna, Austria.

But a new study also cautioned middle-aged men about the risk of consuming large amounts of animal protein, associating it with a slightly elevated risk of heart failure.

What were the findings of the new study?

Researchers followed nearly 2,400 men from Finland who were aged 42 to 60 (at the start of the study) for over two decades. Overall, 334 cases of heart failure were diagnosed during the study. 

Men were divided into four groups based on their daily protein consumption. By comparing men who ate the most protein to those who consumed the least, the risk of heart failure was found to be 33 percent higher for all sources of protein, with the highest being animal protein.

However, proteins from fish and eggs were not associated with heart failure risk in the study. The authors acknowledged the limitation of the four-day food recording method and hoped to conduct more research in diverse populations.

How was protein linked to health benefits in the research presented at Vienna? 

It was suggested a high-protein diet could help prolong the lives of heart failure patients.

Researchers followed 2,281 heart failure patients in 11 European countries to examine the link between protein intake and survival. The average age of all patients was 68 while a little over a quarter of participants were women. Daily protein intake was estimated by using urine samples.

At the end of the study period, 31 percent of patients with the lowest protein intake (40 grams or less per day) had died compared to 18 percent of patients from the highest quartile of protein intake (70 grams or more per day). Study author Koen Streng noted “dietary protein builds muscle mass which is beneficial for health in these patients.”

So how much protein does a person actually need?

According to the American Heart Association, the only possible risk of ingesting too much protein is when it comes from meat. Since they were high in saturated fats, they may add to elevated LDL cholesterol levels.

But given that it is a critical nutrient, experts generally recommend getting 10 percent to 35 percent of daily calories from protein. Furthermore, it is better to spread protein intake throughout the meals of the day with no more than 30 grams per meal unless a person is undergoing intense physical training.

“When you look at how most people get their protein, they have very little or none at breakfast, and then dinner is this protein soiree where they consume the bulk of their day’s protein in one big lump,” said Douglas Paddon-Jones, a professor of nutrition and metabolism at the University of Texas Medical Branch. 

Paddon-Jones recommended protein sources such as eggs, yogurt, soy milk, quinoa, beans, tofu, and fish in his meal plan.