What’s the Healthiest Source of Protein?

Beans nuts


You eat protein every day, but do you know which sources are good for you and which aren’t? Does milk do a body good? Is red meat as good for you as it tastes? What about fish?


The Study:

One study followed 84,136 women over 26 years. Questionnaires were sent to the women periodically, asking for detailed information on their diets (among other questions). Each woman was scored on how much they ate various food groups. Here’s a breakdown of the major food groups included:

Red meat (hamburger, beef hot dog, processed meat and processed meat sandwich, bacon, beef/pork/lamb as a mixed and main dish), poultry (chicken with and without skin, chicken sandwich, and chicken/turkey hot dog), fish (canned tuna, dark- and light-fleshed fish, and breaded fish), high-fat dairy (whole milk, ice cream, hard cheese, full-fat cheese, cream, sour cream, cream cheese, butter), low-fat dairy (skim/low-fat milk, 1% and 2% milk, yogurt, cottage and ricotta cheeses, low-fat cheese, sherbert), [nuts and beans were also included].

The researchers then compared the different diets to incidence of coronary heart disease after controlling for a number of potential confounders like exercise, smoking, and alcohol use. The researchers found that red meat and high-fat dairy were significantly associated with heart disease. Poultry, fish, nuts, and beans, were associated with a significant decreased risk though. Looking at the chart below, you can see what happens when you substitute 1 type of protein for another (risk is reduced as you move down on the chart). Replacing 1 serving a day of red meat with 1 serving a day of nuts, for example, leads to 30% reduced risk of heart disease.


Protein sources

Looking closer at the chart, you can see that beans are the healthiest source of protein followed by nuts, fish, poultry, low-fat dairy, high-fat dairy and red meat.



The chart above provides excellent practical advice on how to eat healthier. Try to replace red meat with beans, nuts fish and poultry when possible. Eat more beans, nuts, fish and poultry overall and stay clear of red meat and high-fat dairy.



Bernstein, Adam M., et al. “Major dietary protein sources and risk of coronary heart disease in women.” Circulation 122.9 (2010): 876-883.