Eating more amino acids can benefit you heart as much as quitting smoking or exercising more, a European study from the University of East Anglia shows.
Researchers investigated the effect of seven amino acids on cardiovascular health among almost 2,000 women with a healthy body mass index. Researchers studied the women's' diets and compared it to clinical measures of blood pressure and blood vessel thickness and stiffness.
They found strong evidence that those who consumed the highest amounts of amino acids had lower measures of blood pressure and arterial stiffness.
However, those with a higher intake of amino acids from plant-based sources associated with lower blood pressure, and a higher intake from animal sources associated with lower levels of arterial stiffness.
Lead researcher Dr. Amy Jennings, from UEA's Norwich Medical School, said increasing intake from protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, dairy produce, beans, lentils, broccoli and spinach could be an important and readily achievable way to reduce people's risk of cardiovascular disease.
"Results from previous studies have provided evidence that increased dietary protein may be associated with lower blood pressure. We wanted to know whether protein from animal sources or plant-based sources was more beneficial – so we drilled down and looked at the different amino acids found in both meat and vegetables," Jennings said.
Researchers studied seven amino acids - arginine, cysteine, glutamic acid, glycine, histidine, leucine, and tyrosine.
Glutamic acid, leucine, and tyrosine are found in animal sources, and a higher intake was associated with lower levels of arterial stiffness.
All seven amino acids, and particularly those from plant-based sources, were associated with lower blood pressure.
"The really surprising thing that we found is that amino acid intake has as much of an effect on blood pressure as established lifestyle risk factors such as salt intake, physical activity and alcohol consumption," Jennings said. "For arterial stiffness, the association was similar to the magnitude of change previously associated with not smoking."
High blood pressure is one of the most potent risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease. A reduction in blood pressure leads to a reduction in mortality caused by stroke or coronary heart disease – so changing a diet to include more meat, fish, dairy produce and pulses could help both prevent and treat the condition.
"Beneficial daily amounts equate to a 75g portion of steak, a 100g salmon fillet or a 500ml glass of skimmed milk," she added.
The research is published in the Journal of Nutrition.