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Heart-healthy foods

If you want lower 'bad' cholesterol, trade your steak for plant protein

Sorry, carnivores: Opting for plant-based protein over animal protein sources can help lower your cholesterol, a new study suggests.

Adding more vegetables to your diet and cutting back on meat is a simple way to trim your waist and reduce your risk for chronic disease. (It's also better for the environment: Going vegetarian could help fight climate change, because livestock actually emit more greenhouse gases than cars do, according to a 2006 United Nations study.)

But if you're like most Men's Fitness readers, you're focused on one thing: gains. Fortunately, you can build plenty of muscle on a plant-based diet and reap the health benefits.

Changing up your diet to focus more on plant protein could help lower "bad" cholesterol, which clogs arteries and ramps up your risk of a heart attack, stroke, or arterial disease, according to a recent meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. In the review, researchers investigated more than 100 studies of people who started eating mostly plant proteins for at least three weeks; the researchers found that plant-eaters reduced three of their main cholesterol markers by close to 5%.

"That may not sound like much, but because people in North America eat very little plant protein, there is a real opportunity here to make some small changes to our diets and realize the health benefits," said study lead John Sievenpiper, M.D., Ph.D, a researcher in the Clinical Nutrition and Risk Factor Modification Center at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.

Considering making the switch? Subjects replaced up to two servings of animal protein with plant proteins like soy, nuts, and pulses like peas, beans, lentils, and chickpeas.

"We are seeing a major interest in plant-based diets from Mediterranean to vegetarian diets in the supermarket and the clinic, and this comprehensive analysis of the highest level of evidence from randomized trials provides us with more confidence that these diets are heart-healthy,” said Sievenpiper.