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Is White Meat Better for Your Heart Than Red Meat?

Should you choose white meat such as chicken instead of red meat like beef or pork? To lower cholesterol, pick plant protein in a low sat fat diet.

For decades, Americans have been told that red meat is bad for the heart. They’ve been encouraged to substitute white meat instead. As a result, millions treat pork chops, steaks and burgers as forbidden foods and embrace chicken and turkey instead. A new study challenges that wisdom (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online June 4, 2019).

Comparing Red Meat, White Meat and No Meat:

Scientists in California compared the effects of diets high or low in saturated fat among more than 100 healthy adults. Within each group, people followed a diet based on red meat, poultry or plant protein for a month at a time. Their meals were provided to reduce the chance of straying off the prescribed regimen. In between each month of controlled diets, people were allowed to eat their usual fare for two weeks. This offered a “wash-out” period, so the effects of one diet didn’t carry over to the next. 

Both red meat and white meat raised total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol more than plant protein. It didn’t matter whether people got red or white meat if they were eating a high saturated fat diet. Their lipids were elevated compared to those of those following a low saturated fat diet. 

The authors conclude that their study shows no good reason to pick white over red meat to lower heart disease risk:

“The findings are in keeping with recommendations promoting diets with a high proportion of plant-based food but, based on lipid and lipoprotein effects, do not provide evidence for choosing white over red meat for reducing CVD risk.”


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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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  • Bergeron N et al, "Effects of red meat, white meat, and nonmeat protein sources on atherogenic lipoprotein measures in the context of low compared with high saturated fat intake: A randomized controlled trial." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online June 4, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqz035
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