Health experts have long recommended that replacing red meat with white meat is a healthy alternative. Red meat has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. White meat was considered a superior option to red meat which was linked to a number of diseases from diabetes to heart diseases and some forms of cancer.
But now researchers say that white meat, such as poultry, is just as harmful to your blood cholesterol level as red meat. Researchers at the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI) who found the harms of white meat, suggest that it is best to hold back from eating too much of either type of meat.
The findings support our current recommendations that saturated fats in general should be avoided as much as possible regardless of source. Non-meat proteins — such as vegetables, dairy, and legumes — prove to be most beneficial for cholesterol levels, according to the study, said the researchers.
For their study, the researchers recruited more than 100 healthy adults who were split into two groups. The first group ate a diet high in saturated fats, while the second followed a diet low in saturated fats.
The participants then followed three different diets — a red meat diet, a white meat diet, and a non-meat protein diet — for four weeks each. Beef made up the bulk of the red meat diet and chicken composed the white meat diet.
The researchers collected blood samples from the participants at the start and end of each diet to measure total cholesterol along with low-density lipoprotein, or LDL — the ‘bad’ cholesterol that can cause plaque to build up in your arteries and increase your risk for heart disease.
The research team expected to find that red meat was more harmful than white meat. To their surprise, however, they discovered that red and white meat had the same impact on cholesterol levels, including LDL, when they had the same saturated fat levels.
Participants’ LDL levels were lower after they had consumed plant-based proteins. The study also found that red and white meats with higher levels of saturated fats increased the amount of large LDL particles. This is puzzling because it is the smaller particles, not the large ones, that are more associated with cholesterol plaque build up.
LDL and very low density lipoprotein, or VLDL, are two types of lipoproteins — or a combination of proteins and fats in your blood — that carry cholesterol and triglycerides throughout the body. Cholesterol is a fatty substance that helps build cells, and triglycerides are a type of fat that stores energy in your cells. LDL transports the cholesterol, and VLDL carries the triglycerides.
While our bodies need both LDL and VLDL to function, having too much of them can cause plaque to build up in our arteries and spike up our risk for heart disease or stroke. Elevated LDL cholesterol has been demonstrated in several large scale trials to be consistently linked with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Additionally, lowering your LDL cholesterol levels can reduce your cardiovascular risk.
High levels of triglycerides have also been associated with a heightened risk of cardiovascular disease. However, most studies have not demonstrated that reducing triglycerides lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease. That said, doctors continue to advise patients to aim for an LDL level less than 100 mg/dl and a triglyceride level lower than 150 mg/dl. In general, the lower your VLDL and LDL levels are, the less plaque buildup you will have, and the lower your risk of heart disease will be.
While studies like this one help us better understand the relationship between meat consumption and heart disease, it is clear there is still much research to be done, admitted the researchers. The added, “Our results indicate that current advice to restrict red meat and not white meat should not be based only on their effects on blood cholesterol. Indeed, other effects of red meat consumption could contribute to heart disease, and these effects should be explored in more detail in an effort to improve health.