It’s a finding that surprised even the researchers.
Those who eschew steak in favor of chicken because they think it’s healthier may be able to put lean beef back on the menu.
That’s because new research, published Tuesday in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, is raising questions about poultry and cholesterol.
The small study found that consuming high levels of red meat or white poultry resulted in higher blood cholesterol levels than consuming an equal amount of plant protein. The findings held even when diets contained high levels of saturated fat, which increased blood cholesterol to the same extent as all three protein sources.
The key takeaway from the study, nutritionists say, is to watch out for saturated fat, no matter the protein source. And when it comes to poultry versus red meat, “it’s easier to get higher amounts of saturated fat from some cuts of red meat,” said Elizabeth Kitchin, assistant professor of nutrition sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who wasn’t involved with the research.
Still, it was unexpected that poultry had the effect on cholesterol levels that it did.
“I was surprised that the effect of white meat on cholesterol levels was identical to the effects of red meat,” said Dr. Ronald Krauss, study author and director of atherosclerosis research at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute.
In the study, 113 adults were randomly assigned to one of three diets for one month: rich in lean cuts of beef, lean cuts of chicken or turkey, or plant proteins. After each month, the participants’ diet was changed, so that each participant ended up trying all three diets. However, half of the participants’ diets, regardless of protein source, were high in saturated fat; the other half ate a low-saturated fat diet.
After each month, the researchers measured the participants’ levels of LDL cholesterol, the so-called bad cholesterol.
“Keeping all else constant — even the level of animal fat — the levels were higher on both sources of meat compared to the nonmeat diet,” Krauss told NBC News.