You've probably heard widespread advice to choose lean chicken and turkey over beef and pork in order to avoid eating too many saturated fats, which can be damaging to your cardiovascular health over a longer period of time. While calorie counts between poultry and other proteins may differ, new research published by a team at the University of California, San Francisco, found that chicken and turkey can actually have the same negative effect on cholesterol levels as red meat can.
The study found that the cholesterol levels of those who incorporated white meat more frequently into their diets were influenced just as much as they would be if they were eating beef and pork. But the research, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, makes it clear that white meat may still be preferable to red meat, given that there are other cardiovascular effects associated with beef and pork. When it comes to managing heightened cholesterol, however, it seems that the best choice for dieters could be found in vegetarian lifestyles; including legumes and dairy, as researchers found that these kinds of meals had the best effect.
Healthcare professionals often break up cholesterol into two groups: "Good" cholesterol is known as HDL (high-density lipoproteins) effectively manages "bad" cholesterol (LDL, or low-density lipoproteins) found in the body, per the American Heart Association. Too much LDL in your blood, which is influenced by the number of saturated fats you eat, can lead to heart attacks or strokes. Experts have long established that the increased saturated fat content found in red meat as compared to white meat could lead to a higher risk of poor heart health, but researchers claim their new study settles a long-held belief.
Using more than 100 healthy women and men between the ages of 21 and 65 in the study, researchers split them up into two groups; those who ate high amounts of saturated fat, primarily through butter and full-fat foods, as well as a group that ate their way through a lower amount of fat. Participants then cycled through test diets for four weeks at a time, which including higher amounts of red meat, then white meat, and a vegetarian diet. Then, participants enjoyed a "washout period" where they ate how they normally did—blood samples were collected at the start and end of each test diet.
While the vegetarian diets had the best impact on cholesterol levels, researchers were surprised to find that cholesterol levels were largely similar on both the red and white meat trials, especially if the saturated fat intake overall was equivalent. More research is needed to better understand how any source of meat can influence cardiovascular health over time; the study wasn't conclusive on the particle sizes of cholesterol found in each diet, as some forms of meat may introduce larger chains of cholesterol into the bloodstream.