White Meat May Be as Cholesterol-Raising as Red

White Meat May Be as Cholesterol-Raising as Red2

In light of recommendations for heart healthy eating from national professional organizations encouraging Americans to limit their intake of meat, the beef industry commissioned and co-wrote a review of randomized controlled trials comparing the effects of beef versus chicken and fish on cholesterol levels published over the last 60 years. They found that the impact of beef consumption on the cholesterol profile of humans is similar to that of fish and/or poultry—meaning that switching from red meat to white meat likely wouldn’t make any difference. And that’s really no surprise, given how fat we’ve genetically manipulated chickens to be these days, up to ten times more fat than they had a century ago (see Does Eating Obesity Cause Obesity?).

There are a number of cuts of beef that have less cholesterol-raising saturated fat than chicken (see BOLD Indeed: Beef Lowers Cholesterol?); so, it’s not so surprising that white meat was found to be no better than red, but the beef industry researchers’ conclusion was that “therefore you can eat beef as part of a balanced diet to manage your cholesterol.”

Think of the Coke versus Pepsi analogy. Coke has less sugar than Pepsi: 15 spoonfuls of sugar per bottle instead of 16. If studies on blood sugar found no difference between drinking Coke versus Pepsi, you wouldn’t conclude that “Pepsi may be considered when recommending diets for the management of blood sugars;” you’d say they’re both equally as bad so we should ideally consume neither.

That’s a standard drug industry trick. You don’t compare your fancy new drug to the best out there, but to some miserable drug to make yours look better. Note they didn’t compare beef to plant proteins, like in this study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. As I started reading it, though, I was surprised that they found no benefit of switching to a plant protein diet either. What were they eating? You can see the comparison in Switching from Beef to Chicken & Fish May Not Lower Cholesterol.  

For breakfast, the plant group got a kidney bean and tomato casserole and a salad, instead of a burger. And for dinner, instead of another burger, the plant protein group just got some boring vegetables. So, why was the cholesterol of the plant group as bad as the animal group? They had the plant protein group eating three tablespoons of beef tallow every day—three tablespoons of straight beef fat!

This was part of a series of studies that tried to figure out what was so cholesterol-raising about meat—was it the animal protein or was it the animal fat? So, researchers created fake meat products made to have the same amount of saturated fat and cholesterol by adding extracted animal fats and cholesterol. Who could they get to make such strange concoctions? The Ralston Purina dog food company.

But what’s crazy is that even when keeping the saturated animal fat and cholesterol the same (by adding meat fats to the veggie burgers and making the plant group swallow cholesterol pills to equal it out), sometimes they still saw a cholesterol lowering advantage in the plant protein group.

If you switch people from meat to tofu, their cholesterol goes down, but what if you switch them from meat to tofu plus lard? Then, their cholesterol may stay the same, though tofu and lard may indeed actually be better than meat, since it may result in less oxidized cholesterol. More on the role of oxidized cholesterol can be found in my videos Does Cholesterol Size Matter? and Arterial Acne.

Just swapping plant protein for animal protein may have advantages, but if you really want to maximize the power of diet to lower cholesterol, you may have to move entirely toward plants. The standard dietary advice to cut down on fatty meat, dairy, and eggs may lower cholesterol 5-10%, but flexitarian or vegetarian diets may drop our levels 10 to 15%, vegan diets 15 to 25%, and healthier vegan diets can cut up to 35%, as seen in this study out of Canada showing a whopping 61 point drop in LDL cholesterol within a matter of weeks.

You thought chicken was a low-fat food? It used to be a century ago, but not anymore. It may even be one of the reasons we’re getting fatter as well: Chicken Big: Poultry and Obesity and Infectobesity: Adenovirus 36 and Childhood Obesity.

Isn’t protein just protein? How does our body know if it’s coming from a plant or an animal? How could it have different effects on cardiovascular risk? See Protein and Heart Disease, another reason why Plant Protein [is] Preferable.

Lowering cholesterol in your blood is as simple as reducing one’s intake of three things: Trans Fat, Saturated Fat, and Cholesterol: Tolerable Upper Intake of Zero.

What about those news stories on the “vindication” of saturated fat? See the sneaky science in The Saturated Fat Studies: Buttering Up the Public and The Saturated Fat Studies: Set Up to Fail.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

The Five Most Important Dietary Tweaks

The Five Most Important Dietary Tweaks

Generally, adherence to healthy lifestyle patterns has decreased during the last 18 years. Obesity is up, exercise is down, and the number of people eating just five servings of fruits and veggies a day dropped like a rock. And we didn’t start out that great to begin with.

Only 3% of Americans at the turn of the 21st century had the following four healthy lifestyle characteristics: not smoking, not overweight, five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, and exercising a half hour a day at least five days a week. Whether people were wealthy or college-educated didn’t matter; no sub-group even remotely met clinical or public health recommendations.

Where are people falling down the most? You can see in my video What Percent of Americans Lead Healthy Lifestyles?. If you look at heart disease risk factors, for example, most people don’t smoke and about half are exercising. But if we look at the healthy diet score–which is based on things like drinking less than four cups of soda a week–a scale of zero to five, only about 1% of Americans score a four or five. The American Heart Association’s aggressive 2020 target to improve that by 20% would bring us up to 1.2%.

Since we’ve known for decades that advanced coronary artery disease may be present by age 20—with atherosclerosis often even present in young children—it is particularly disturbing that healthy lifestyle choices are declining rather than improving in the U.S.

In terms of life expectancy, the U.S. is down around 27 or 28 out of the 34 OECD free-market democracies. The people of Slovenia live a year longer than citizens of the United States. Why? According to the most rigorous analysis of risk factors ever published, the number one cause of death and disability in the United States is our diet.

It’s the food.

According to the Global Burden of Disease study, the worst five things about our diet are: we don’t eat enough fruit, we don’t eat enough nuts and seeds, we eat too much salt, too much processed meat, and not enough vegetables.

Studies that have looked at diet quality and chronic disease mortality risk found that those scoring higher (e.g. more whole plant foods), reduced the risk of dying prematurely from heart disease, cancer, and all causes of death combined. There is now an overwhelming body of clinical and epidemiological evidence illustrating the dramatic impact of a healthy lifestyle on reducing all-cause mortality and preventing chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.

Why do we eat so poorly? Aren’t we scared of dying from these horrible chronic diseases? It’s almost as if we’re eating as though our future didn’t matter. And there’s actually data to back that up, from a study entitled Death Row Nutrition.

The growing macabre fascination with speculating about one’s ‘‘last meal’’ offers a window into one’s true consumption desires when one’s value of the future is discounted close to zero. In contrast to pop culture anecdotes, a group of Cornell researchers created a catalog of actual last meals–the final food requests of 247 individuals executed in the United States during a recent five-year period. Meat was the most common request. The researchers go out of their way to note that tofu never made the list, and no one asked for a vegetarian meal. In fact, if you compare the last meals to what Americans normally eat, there’s not much difference.

If we continue to eat as though they were our last meals, eventually, they will be.

A few years ago I did a video called Nation’s Diet in Crisis. It’s sad that it doesn’t seem like much has changed. How Many Meet the Simple Seven? is another video in which you can see how your own habits stack up.

For more on fruits and veggies and living longer, see Fruits and Longevity: How Many Minutes per Mouthful? Surprised that nuts made the longevity list? See Nuts May Help Prevent Death. What about legumes? See Increased Lifespan from Beans.

The reason public health professionals are so keen on measuring lifestyle characteristics is because modest improvements may have extraordinary effects. See, for example:

Didn’t know the beginnings of heart disease may already be present in children? See my video Heart Disease Starts in Childhood. Think that’s tragic? Check out Heart Disease May Start in the Womb. Is it too late if we’ve been eating poorly most of our lives? It’s Never Too Late to Start Eating Healthier.

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

High Blood Pressure: Normal but Not Natural

The most comprehensive and systematic analysis of causes of death ever undertaken allows us to answer questions like, how many lives could we save if people cut back on soda? The answer is 299,521.  Soft drinks aren’t just bad because they’re empty calories. More than just not being a health-promoting item, soda appears to be an actively death-promoting item. Of course, it’s not as deadly as processed meats, such as bacon, bologna, ham, or hot dogs, which account for about 800,000 deaths every year—killing twice as many women as domestic violence and five times more people than all illegal drugs combined.

On the other hand, eating more whole grains could save 1.7 million lives. And more vegetables could save 1.8 million lives every year. If only we ate more nuts and seeds, we’d save 2 and a half million lives. But fruit is apparently what the world needs most (they didn’t look at beans) with 4.9 million lives hanging in the balance every year. The cure is not drugs or vaccines; the cure is fruit. The #1 dietary risk factor for death in the world may be not eating enough fruit.

One reason why plant-based diets can save so many millions is because the #1 killer risk factor in the world is high blood pressure, laying to waste nine million people year after year. In the United States, high blood pressure affects nearly 78 million—that’s one in three of us. As we age our pressures get higher and higher, such that by age 60, it strikes more than half of that population. If it affects most of us when we get older, maybe it’s less a disease and more just a natural, inevitable consequence of getting older?


We’ve known for nearly a century that high blood pressure need never occur. Researchers measured the blood pressure of a thousand people in rural Kenya. Up until age 40, the blood pressures of rural Africans were about the same as Europeans and Americans, down around 120’s over 80’s, but as Westerners age, our pressures creep up such that by age 60 the average person is hypertensive, exceeding 140 over 90. But the pressures of those in rural Africa improved with age; not only did they not develop hypertension, their blood pressures actually got better.

The 140/90 cut-off is arbitrary. Just like studies that show the lower our cholesterol the better—there’s really no safe level above about 150—blood pressure studies also support a “lower the better” approach. Even people who start out with blood pressure under 120/80 appear to benefit from blood pressure reduction. The ideal blood pressure, the no-benefit-from-reducing-it-further blood pressure, appears to be 110/70. Is it possible to get blood pressures under 110 over 70? It’s not just possible, it can be normal for those eating healthy enough diets (see How Not to Die from High Blood Pressure).

Over two years at a rural Kenyan hospital, 1,800 patients were admitted. How many cases of high blood pressure were found? Zero. Wow. They must have had low rates of heart disease. Actually, they had no rates of heart disease. Not low risk—no risk. Not a single case of arteriosclerosis was found.

Having a “normal” blood pressure may set you up for dying from “normal” causes such as heart attacks and strokes. For more on this concept, see When Low Risk Means High Risk. It’s like having a normal cholesterol level (see Optimal Cholesterol Level).

It seems high blood pressure is a choice. Like cavities:  Cavities and Coronaries: Our Choice.

Even end-stage malignant hypertension can be reversed with diet (thereby demonstrating it was the diet and not other lifestyle factors that protected traditional plant-based populations). See Kempner Rice Diet: Whipping Us Into Shape.

Flax seeds, hibiscus tea, whole grains, and nitrate-rich vegetables may offer additional protection:

Why not just take the drugs? See The Actual Benefit of Diet vs. Drugs and Why Prevention is Worth a Ton of Cure. And be sure to check out my summary video, How Not to Die from High Blood Pressure, as well as The Evidence that Salt Raises Blood Pressure.

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations: