Those worried about their cholesterol who opt for chicken instead of beef may want to check out a new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers were surprised to find that white meat and red meat were equally bad in terms of blood cholesterol levels, reports US News & World Report. By contrast, a diet of plant proteins was the clear winner in this regard. In the study of 113 people, participants ate three different diets over the course of three months, one that was either rich in lean cuts of beef, lean cuts of chicken or turkey, or plant proteins. "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," says senior author Ronald Krauss of Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute in a news release.
The researchers measured the diets' effects on LDL cholesterol, or "bad" cholesterol. Only the plant-based diet actually lowered LDL levels. “So the result can be viewed as indicating either a cholesterol raising effect of the meats, a cholesterol lowering effect of plant foods, or both," Krauss tells Inverse. What's more, "this effect was observed whether or not the diet contained high levels of saturated fat, which increased blood cholesterol to the same extent with all three protein sources," per the news release. NBC News says the findings would be of most use to people who are at risk of heart disease and looking to lower LDL levels—they might want to consider going light on both types of meat in favor of plant proteins—and also notes that, no matter which diet you eat, staying away from saturated fat is key. (Read more red meat stories.)