beyond the protein obsession: nourishing your heart at any age

February 22, 2024

As we celebrate Heart Month, it’s crucial to reflect on our dietary choices and how they impact our cardiovascular health, especially as we age. In today’s health-conscious world, there’s a prevailing notion that increasing protein intake is essential for achieving various goals, from weight management to maintaining muscle strength. However, this obsession with protein comes at a cost. Higher protein intake usually comes from animal sources which is associated with higher risk of chronic diseases such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. While protein is undoubtedly important, the obsession with protein-heavy diets may not only be unnecessary but also detrimental to our long-term health. As we further explore our nutrient needs, it becomes clear that a balanced approach with a focus on a variety of plant foods is key to nourishing our bodies and safeguarding our heart health.


The Protein Predicament

Despite the pervasive belief that more protein is always better, the reality is that most Americans consume far more protein than necessary for optimal health. In fact, research shows that the average American consumes nearly double the recommended daily intake of protein. Because much of it comes from animal sources this translates to high intake of saturated fat and cholesterol as well. This protein-heavy focus also usually includes an emphasis on decreasing carbohydrate intake which results in less fiber intake and this can result in nutrient deficiencies and again contributes to the development of chronic diseases that disproportionately affect older adults. Another caveat that we often try to add supplements to compensate for these deficiencies.

Plant-Powered Nutrition

Fortunately, there’s a simple yet powerful solution to this protein obsession: embracing a plant-forward approach to nutrition. By ensuring that we include a diverse array of plant foods in our diets every day—such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds—we can easily meet our protein needs while reaping the added benefits of essential nutrients and fiber. Plant proteins not only provide adequate amino acids for muscle maintenance and repair but also offer a wealth of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that support overall health and well-being.

Comparing Protein Requirements and Consumption

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein varies depending on factors such as age, sex, and activity level. For adults, the general guideline is approximately 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Above age 65 the requirement may be slightly higher to prevent age related muscle loss to 1 – 1.2 gm of protein per kilogram. Despite these recommendations, studies have found that the average American consumes significantly more protein than necessary, with intake ranging from 1.2 to 1.6 grams per kilogram of body weight per day, largely due to the popularity of high-protein diets. So in spite of this fear of not enough protein, in the majority of cases we are getting much more protein than is required. Some will argue that you need more for performance but the data is weak. If you are not a bodybuilder or elite athlete or a growing adolescent and you are consuming enough high quality calories you are getting enough protein.

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Empowering Choices

For those seeking to nourish their hearts and bodies at any age, the key lies in prioritizing whole, plant-based foods and incorporating variety into our diets. By focusing on a colorful array of fruits and vegetables, hearty whole grains, protein-rich legumes, and satisfying nuts and seeds, we can ensure that our nutritional needs are met without the need for excessive protein consumption. These high quality, nutrient dense foods will not only leave you satisfied but well nourished. By doing this, we don’t have to have to count calories or macronutrients we can simply focus on consuming whole unprocessed foods. Moreover, by embracing the abundance of plant foods available to us, we can reduce our risk of chronic diseases and cultivate a vibrant, thriving lifestyle that honors our bodies and enhances our quality of life.


As we reevaluate our dietary choices in the pursuit of heart health and overall well-being, it’s essential to move beyond the protein obsession and embrace a holistic approach to nutrition. By including a variety of plant foods in our diets and prioritizing balance and diversity, we can nourish our bodies, safeguard our hearts, and thrive at any age. Let’s empower ourselves to make informed choices that prioritize plant-powered nutrition and pave the way for a healthier, happier future.

Additional Reading



I am a pediatric intensive care physician and lifestyle medicine specialist.

As an intensive care physician I was seeing younger and younger patients with adult type diseases. Hypertension, type 2 diabetes and obesity were becoming more common and my patients were suffering sequelae as a result. Many times the entire family was suffering.

I realized that things had to change. I realized that in order to help my patients, I would have to help the entire family. Empowering individuals and families to take control of their health through lifestyle change is my passion.