In the world of good-for-you proteins, chicken has generally reigned supreme—at least among the meats. But now a new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that poultry and beef both raised levels of LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) when saturated fat levels were equivalent.
"When we planned this study, we expected red meat to have a more adverse effect on blood cholesterol levels than white meat, but we were surprised that this was not the case—the effects on cholesterol are identical when saturated fat levels are equivalent," said study senior author Ronald Krauss, M.D., senior scientist and director of Atherosclerosis Research at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute. Until now, there had been no thorough comparison of how red meat, white meat, and non-meat proteins impacted cholesterol.
This study, like others, found that plant-based proteins can improve your cholesterol, said Dr. Krauss. Does this mean you have to give up meat forever? Nope. Just try to limit your servings to a few times a week and watch your portions. It really can help to think of that chicken or beef as a side dish. Then aim to round out your meals and snacks with plenty of non-meat proteins like these:
Nuts really pack a protein punch—plus, their healthy fats will keep you satisfied. Snack on them whole or use nut butters on sandwiches, in smoothies, or on apple slices or celery sticks for an extra protein boost. You can even chop them up to add some crunch to your favorite salads.
Greek yogurt is a thicker, slightly tart yogurt that has more protein than the traditional kind. It’s sold in tons of different flavors, and you can even get creative and add nuts (see above!) and fruits to make a yummy parfait. Just make sure you check the label to make sure you’re not buying one with a ton of added sugar.
Protein content: 20 g per 7-oz container of plain Greek yogurt
Whipping up a quick stir-fry for dinner? Switch out your chicken for tofu! Tofu can sound scary to meat-lovers, but it’s great at taking on the flavor of the rest of the dish—so a stir-fry or something similar is a great way for newbies to test it out. (Here’s a recipe to try!)
Protein content: 10 g per ½ cup tofu
Chickpeas are another versatile option to help you pack some plant-based protein in your diet. Try adding them to your favorite salad, stews, and more. Hummus is also made with chickpeas, so scoop it up with some carrots and celery.
Protein content: 7.25 g per ½ cup chickpeas, or 19 g per 1 cup hummus
Swap out your rice for quinoa or add this nutrient-rich grain to your salad at lunch. Or make it a breakfast staple, like in this heart-healthy recipe.
Protein content: 8 g per 1 cup of cooked quinoa
See more helpful articles:
Eat Your Way to a Stronger Heart
More Striking Evidence of Plant-Based Diet Benefits
How Much Protein Do You Need After 50?