- Chicken may be just as bad as steak when it comes to cholesterol. A new study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition by scientists at Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute found there is no statistical difference between red and white meat raising low-density lipoprotein(LDL) cholesterol.
- The small study was conducted on 113 adults in two groups; one who ate a diet high in saturated fat and another who ate a low-saturated fat diet. Each group was given a diet for a month that either contained beef, chicken or turkey, or plant proteins. Diets were rotated at the end of each month so every participant tried each of the protein sources.
- The study found consuming large amounts of red meat or white poultry both resulted in higher blood cholesterol levels than eating the same amount of plant protein. The results were the same even when the diets had high levels of saturated fat, which increased blood cholesterol to the same extent on all three protein sources.
For years, consumers have heard that red meat is unhealthy, with links between red meat and cancer as well as heart disease. That association is typically amplified when red meat is enveloped in a layer of saturated fat. In addition to higher cholesterol, two studies published last year showed that red meat eaters also have elevated levels of TMAO, a blood chemical that has been linked to higher risk of heart disease. To avoid these medical pitfalls, carnivores and scientists thought eating white poultry meat was the answer.
Now, white meat may no longer be as great as many people had once thought. While these findings could potentially be bad news for the industry as a whole and convince consumers to swear off meat entirely, the more likely answer is that it helps the red meat industry and give meat lovers another reason to order a steak or hamburger.
Despite warnings from regulatory bodies such as the World Economic Forum that recently recommended more plant-based proteins be incorporated into global diets to enhance human health and environmental sustainability, U.S. meat consumption is increasing.
In 2018, the average consumer ate a record breaking 222.2 pounds of red meat and poultry, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. On average, that's 10 ounces of protein a day — well above the 5 to 6.5 ounces recommended by the USDA for a healthy diet.
Although beef consumption is increasing, chicken is still in the lead. But this study may prompt consumers who have been cutting their red meat consumption to indulge in a few more burgers and steak. Of course, not all red meats are created equally. According to the World Health Organization, hot dogs, bacon, sausage and other processed meats are cancerous, and red meat could be too. Less processed cuts did not elicit such a grim warning from the WHO.
At the same time, this study could be the catalyst to really propel the plant-based protein industry forward. As of last year, plant-based meats accounted for 2.1% of sales in refrigerated and frozen meat products sold at retail, according to Nielsen data. That percentage needs to increase dramatically though in order to help not only human health, but also the environment. Achieving that goal will require a massive change in mindset, something the meat industry is likely to fight.
As a small study, it is unlikely that these findings will upend the industry in the way that the WHO or other larger studies previously have. However, these results may open the door for more research to confirm the findings, which may then start to cause a stir and get consumers' to pay more attention to their meat consumption habits.