Red meat gets all the flack, but in terms of cholesterol, research in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition finds no advantage to picking white meat like chicken over red meat like beef.
Led by researchers at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, the study randomly assigned 113 healthy adults to a diet either low or high in saturated fat and, within each diet group, subjects consumed higher amounts of red meat (beef), white meat (chicken) or plant protein like legumes for 4-week cycles. The scientists were surprised to discover that the effects on LDL cholesterol and apolipoprotein B, two risk factors for heart disease, were the same in both the red-meat and white-meat groups, independent of saturated-fat content. On average, LDL cholesterol—the “bad kind”—was about 5%–6% higher on each of the meat diets compared with the plant-based diet.
But here is the caveat: The study did not determine whether red meat or white meat actually increased heart events, such as heart attack; It only looked at whether eating more meat raised the risk via worsening blood cholesterol profiles. Exercise may also mitigate some harmful effects of frequent meat consumption, the researchers added. The general takeaway, however, is that if you want to have a hale and hearty heart, it may be a good idea to cut back on protein from things that moo and cluck.