Eating a lot of meat, red or white, increases “bad cholesterol”

If you were thinking of reducing your “bad cholesterol” level by replacing your beef with chicken, you should review your strategy, according to a study by researchers in California.

The consumption of white meat has the same effect on LDL cholesterol, often called “bad cholesterol”, as red meat, according to the work of doctors and researchers based at the Children’s Hospital Research Institute. Oakland, California.

The big difference is between meat and plant products. Consuming vegetable protein contributes to better LDL cholesterol levels.

“Red meat, coupled with a diet high in saturated fat, was expected to produce the most deteriorated lipid profile. But that’s not what we observed, “says Nathalie Bergeron, a professor at Touro University, California, and co-author of the study.

“We were a little surprised by our findings that show that red meat and white meat have an equivalent effect on LDL cholesterol; and it was true regardless of the amount of saturated fat in the diet. “

For their study, the researchers recruited 113 healthy adults from 21 to 65 years old. They divided them into two groups: the first had to follow a diet high in saturated fat, whose fat came mainly from rich dairy products. The other group had a diet low in saturated fat.

In each group, subjects were given one of the three sources of protein for four-week periods: lean red meats (mostly beef and some pork), meats lean white (mostly chicken and some turkey) or vegetable protein (legumes, nuts, whole grains, soybeans).

Prepared meats (cold meats, salami, bacon, etc.) and fish were excluded from all diets.

At each stage, their cholesterol level and other markers were measured.

“Vegetable protein sources gave the most favorable lipid profile. So, LDL cholesterol was decreased in people who consumed vegetable protein, in the high or low saturated fat context, “says Bergeron, who is also a researcher at the Children’s Hospital Research Institute. Oakland.

Not surprisingly, the diet high in saturated fat increased cholesterol in the blood, with the three sources of protein.

White or red?

“Should we recommend white meat more than red meat? Our study suggests no, that they are equivalent [in terms of their influence on blood cholesterol], “she says. “If you choose lean sources and incorporate them in a healthy eating context, if you have a diet low in saturated fat, which contains a lot of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, I think there are the place for these two protein sources in the diet. “

“The recommendations may be a bit different for someone with high lipids or greater cardiovascular risk. Red meat and white meat consumption could be reduced and more vegetable protein sources recommended. “

A balanced diet

The current recommendations of health experts are to limit the consumption of red meat to favor other sources of protein (poultry, fish, legumes, nuts, seeds, etc.), in order to promote better cardiovascular health and to reduce the risk of cancer.

We know that eating a lot of red meat (beef, veal, pork, lamb, horse, etc.) increases the risk of developing certain types of cancer and the risk of mortality.

The detrimental effect of red meat over white meat on cardiovascular health would therefore lie elsewhere than in the influence on blood cholesterol.

“We need to look at other markers of cardiovascular health to better understand the detrimental effects of red meat suggested by epidemiological studies,” says Bergeron.

She emphasizes that cardiovascular health is much more complex and that other markers of risk, particularly related to inflammation and gut microbiota, should also be evaluated in future research.

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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