The next time you’re given a choice between beef and chicken, you might want to choose neither.
A study by the University of California, San Francisco, published this week in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that eating white meat had the same effect on low-density lipoprotein cholesterol as beef did.
A high level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or bad cholesterol, can lead to plaque buildup in arteries, which can result in a heart attack.
Many people diagnosed with high LDL levels will eliminate red meat — beef, pork and lamb — from their diet and instead eat white meat — chicken or other poultry.
Saturated fats in red meat have long been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, the researchers noted, but there has been little research into the effects of eating white meat.
For this study, 100 healthy men and women ages 21-65 were randomly assigned to one of two groups: high saturated fats (butter and full-fat foods) and low saturated fats.
Each participant then consumed a four-week diet of red meat, then white meat, then no meat. Between each diet change was a “washout period,” when they ate as they normally would.
Those in the low saturated fats group showed lower levels of LDL cholesterol than those in the high saturated fats group. But there was no difference in levels based on which meat the participants ate. LDL levels after a diet of white meat were the same as after a diet of red meat.
People looking to lower their cholesterol should turn to a plant-based diet, the study suggests. Eating vegetables, dairy and legumes showed the best results in reducing LDL cholesterol levels.
"If you have problems with cholesterol or if you have a family history of cholesterol or heart disease, then it is best to consume less of both red and white meats and instead substitute beans, lentils, higher protein grains like quinoa, and soy-based products like tofu and tempeh," Maria Romo-Palafox , a registered dietitian and postdoctoral fellow with the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut, told CNN.
That doesn’t mean you have to eliminate meat from your diet, Romo-Palafox said.
"Make sure you are choosing the leanest meats possible,” she told CNN. “If you can adopt a meatless Monday, why not? That might help you balance your risk."
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