SAN FRANCISCO — That bland grilled chicken breast may not be a healthier option compared to a juicy hamburger after all. A study by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco finds that, believe it or not, red and white meats have an equally unhealthy effect on cholesterol levels.
The authors say they were surprised to discover that consuming high levels of red meat or white poultry caused higher blood cholesterol levels than consuming a similar amount of plant proteins. This was proven whether or not the diet contained high levels of saturated fat, which increased cholesterol levels the same amount from all three protein sources tested.
“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,” says study senior author Dr. Ronald Krauss, senior scientist and director of Atherosclerosis Research at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, in a statement.
The study did not include fish, grass-fed beef, or processed meats, but the results show that restricting meat intake altogether, whether red or white, is better for lowering cholesterol. Plant-based proteins were found to be the healthiest protein source for blood cholesterol levels.
Researchers also say that saturated fats led to greater concentrations of large, cholesterol-enriched low-density lipoproteins (LDL) particles, which are not linked to cardiovascular disease as strongly as small LDL particles. Since eating red and white meats boost one’s levels of large LDL particles, the authors warn that LDL cholesterol levels for people who frequently eat meat may overestimate their risk for heart disease.
“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,” says Krauss. “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.”
The study is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.