You’ve probably heard eating too much fatty red meat is bad for your health, while lean meat and chicken are better choices. So, recent headlines claiming white meat is just as bad for your cholesterol levels as red meat might have surprised you.
The reports were triggered by a paper published in the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition earlier this month.
The study did find lean white meat had the same effect on cholesterol levels as lean red meat. While this might be construed as good news by lovers of red meat, more research on this topic is needed for a clearer picture.
How was this study conducted?
The researchers set out to compare three diets:
Where the main dietary source of protein came from eating red meat (beef and pork),
Another where it came from poultry (chicken and turkey),
And a third where it came from plant foods (legumes, nuts, grains and soy products).
They wanted to measure the impact of these diets on specific categories of blood fats, as markers of heart disease risk.
The researchers also wanted to know whether blood fat levels changed more when the background dietary patterns were high in saturated fat, derived mostly from full-fat dairy products and butter, or when they were low in saturated fat.
To achieve this, 177 adults with blood cholesterol levels in the normal range were randomised to follow either a high-saturated fat diet (14% of total energy intake) or a low-saturated fat diet (7% of total energy intake).
Within these two groups they were further randomly assigned to follow three separate diets for four weeks each: red meat, white meat, and plant protein sources.
The main protein sources in the meat groups came from lean cuts of red and white meat.
In the plant diet, protein came from legumes, nuts, grains and soy products.
Participants met research staff weekly to collect their food products and received counselling on following their specified diet. Participants were asked to maintain their physical activity level and keep their weight as stable as possible so these factors did not bias the results.
What did the study find?
Blood concentrations of LDL cholesterol and apoB were lower following the plant protein diet period, compared to both the red and white meat periods. This was independent of whether participants were on a background diet of high- or low-saturated fat.
There was no statistically significant difference in the blood fat levels of those eating red meat compared to those eating white meat.
Eating a diet high in saturated fat led to significant increases in blood levels of LDL cholesterol, apoB, and large LDL particles compared with a background diet low in saturated fat.
So, all the dietary protein sources as well as the level of saturated fat intake had significant effects on total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, non-HDL cholesterol, and apoB levels.
How should we interpret the results?
Although the test diets only lasted four weeks each, this study is important. It’s rare to see intervention studies that directly compare eating different types of meat and sources of protein and the impact on heart-disease risk factors.
This is partly due to the challenge and expense of providing the food and getting people to follow specific diets.
This short-term study does not provide evidence that choosing lean white meat over red meat is either better or worse for your health.
But the findings are consistent with recommendations from the Heart Foundation to include a variety of plant-based foods in our diets, foods containing healthy types of fat and lower amounts of saturated fat, and in particular, to choose lean red meat and poultry.
Clare Collins, Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Newcastle
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.