According to a study led by scientists at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI), California, and published in early June in “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition”, consuming high levels of meat, whether red or white poultry, results in higher blood cholesterol levels than consuming a comparable amount of plant proteins. Moreover, 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.
“When we planned this study, 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; their effects on cholesterol are identical when saturated fat levels are equivalent,” said the study’s senior author, Ronald Krauss, senior scientist and director of atherosclerosis research at CHORI. Krauss noted that grass-fed beef, processed products (such as bacon and sausage) and fish were not included in the study.
The study, dubbed the APPROACH (Animal and Plant Protein and Cardiovascular Health) trial, also found that consuming high amounts of saturated fat increased concentrations of large cholesterol-enriched low-density lipoprotein (LDL) particles, which have a weaker connection to cardiovascular disease than smaller LDL particles. Similarly, red and white meat increased amounts of large LDL in comparison to non-meat diets. Therefore, using standard LDL cholesterol levels as the measure of cardiovascular risk may lead to overestimating that risk for both higher meat and saturated fat intakes, as standard LDL cholesterol tests may primarily reflect levels of larger LDL particles.
Consumption of red meat has become unpopular in the last few decades over concerns about its association with increased heart disease, and there is a general medical advisory that encourages the consumption of poultry as a healthier alternative. But there had been no comprehensive comparison of the effects of red meat, white meat and non-meat proteins on blood cholesterol until now, Krauss pointed out. Non-meat proteins such as vegetables, dairy and legumes, such as beans, show the best cholesterol benefit, he said.
“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,” Krauss said. “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.”