Cholesterol is crucial for our cells. It helps our body synthesize hormones, bile acid, and other essentials for the smooth running of our organism. In layman’s terms, it also transports information allowing the nerves of the body to communicate properly with each other.
High cholesterol levels may lead to an array of avoidable diseases, such as atherosclerosis, which may increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, and vascular disease.
The reader might have heard of there being “good” cholesterol (also known as HDL) and “bad” cholesterol (or LDL). Even if your total cholesterol level is in the green, you might still have an elevated HDL, which then potentially puts you in the red zone for the above-mentioned illnesses.
You might even have heard about the fact that eating fatty foods increases our blood cholesterol.
Most, if not all, of the world’s leading medical organizations continue to advocate for the reduction in the consumption of saturated fat as a crucial measure when it comes to limiting the risk of disease, including diabetes.
Saturated fat intake, cholesterol levels, and cardiovascular disease seem to be causally linked — one seems to lead to another.
Aside from fish, most animal fats are usually saturated while the fats in plants are generally unsaturated. Thus, dairy products and all meats contain cholesterol and saturated fat. However, some animal protein sources can have low levels of saturated fat, while plant protein sources, like palm oil, can have high saturated fat levels.
Since 2015, the WHO (World Health Organization) has been recommending that people make the switch from saturated to unsaturated fats if at all possible.
Likewise, for decades, red meat has been considered the main culprit for high cholesterol levels as it contains notoriously high levels of saturated animal fat. For generations, people have been advised by their doctors and nutritionists to stay away from red meat in order to regulate their cholesterol levels and stave away disease.
A surprising new study was published on Tuesday, June 4 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. While it was a small study, it produced resounding results — it found that the consumption of a lot of meat, be it red or white poultry meat, resulted in higher cholesterol in subjects than in those who ate plant-based protein sources.
The study consisted of 113 adults who got assigned to one of three diets for a month randomly. The first diet consisted mostly of beef, the second of chicken or turkey, and the third only had plant protein sources. When the month ended, the participants would switch diets, so in the end, all the participants ended up doing all three diets.
Mind that half of the participants got diets, whether animal or plant-based, that had rather high saturated fat levels; others ate a diet with low saturated fat levels.
At the end of each month, the researchers checked the participants’ levels of the “bad” LDL cholesterol and came to an unexpected finding. The study author, Dr. Ronald Krauss said he was baffled by the fact that poultry had the same effect as red meat in regards to cholesterol. He also told NBC News that the team had kept everything else unchanged except the meat intake and this just supports the accuracy of the results.
Apparently, the level of saturated fat may be elevated whichever the protein source — white meat and plant protein sources alike.
Overall, however, plant protein sources still created minimum elevation, and the researchers concluded that reducing meat consumption is the thing to do.