Red meat, bad for cholesterol. White meat—like chicken—is not as bad. It’s just something that’s drilled into diet-conscious Americans, like how whole wheat is healthier than white, or how sweet potatoes are healthier than regular potatoes. But this particular one might not be true.
Scientists at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute conducted a study to see how different proteins can affect the levels of various types of cholesterol. Those proteins were red meat, white meat poultry (like chicken breast), and plant-based proteins like beans. In a conclusion that seems to have shocked the scientists, they found that the effects on cholesterol were identical between red and white meat.
Cholesterol is a type of fat found in the bloodstream. The liver produces it, and different foods can be made to trigger that production, but it can also simply come from food. There are, to really simplify things, two main types of cholesterol. LDL cholesterol contributes to the buildup of fats in your arteries; too much of it is extremely dangerous and can lead to heart failure. HDL cholesterol is sometimes known as “good cholesterol,” and actually serves to break down LDL cholesterol, shuttling it back to the liver to be broken down. So ideally, you want high HDL levels, and low LDL levels.
The study found that both red and white meat diets produced the same elevated levels of LDL cholesterol. The plant-based diet, on the other hand, showed significantly lower LDL levels than the meats.
There’s more work to be done in finding out exactly how diet affects cholesterol levels, but this is a major step forward. And, as always, eat more plants.