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White Meat Might Be as Bad for Your Heart as Red Meat

But it’s also possible that neither are as bad as we once thought

Nutritionists have long claimed that red meat is less healthy than white meat. That’s because it contains more saturated fats, which can raise blood cholesterol levels, and high cholesterol can contribute to the development of heart disease. However, a new study kinda throws a wrench in this theory, showing that white meat, and particularly poultry, has pretty much the same effect on cholesterol.

This new study and the outcome are a little confusing, though. See, the researchers recruited 100 healthy volunteers, which is notably small for a serious scientific study. Then, they split them into two broad groups, one of which was given a diet high in saturated fats, while the other was given a diet low in them. Those two groups were then each split into three further groups, and each was given a meal plan: One was high in red meats, another was high in white meats and the last one was high in plant proteins.

Each group consumed their designated diet for four weeks, then they rotated to another one of these diets and repeated the process. Along the way, the researchers periodically tested their blood for cholesterol levels that might contribute to heart disease.

The findings, as already mentioned, basically show that both red meat and white meat have similar effects on raising potentially harmful cholesterol levels. Depending on how you want to see things, this can either mean that both red meat and white meat are bad, or it can mean that plant proteins do a far better job of lowering cholesterol than shoving a giant chicken-fried steak in your mouth hole.

At first glance, this might seem pretty straightforward, but the truth is that we’re still figuring out how cholesterol and saturated fats really interact with the body. For starters, there are two types of cholesterol: “Bad” LDL cholesterol, which is what we’ve been talking about, and “good” HDL cholesterol, which basically fights against the bad stuff. But there are also different kinds of “bad” cholesterol, which can be classified by their size. Small and medium LDL cholesterol is strongly linked to heart disease, whereas the link with large LDL cholesterol is less cut-and-dried.

In this particular study, red and white meat only led to higher levels of large LDL cholesterol, as did eating saturated fats. Therefore one could argue, at least on the basis of this small study, that we’ve been overestimating how harmful these meats and saturated fats really are, since they only raise the less dangerous version of LDL cholesterol.

But again, this was a small study, and it didn’t include fish, which contains omega-3 fatty acids that are believed to reduce cholesterol. They also didn’t look at super processed red meats, like bacon and hot dogs, which are absolutely terrible for you. Had they included these products, the outcome could easily have been more in favor of white meats. It’s also worth noting that white meats are still preferential in the sense that they don’t cause cancer, while red meats — considered Group 1 carcinogens by the World Health Organization — certainly do.

Shaky or otherwise, the one implication from this study that seems to hold true, no matter what the case, is that including more plant proteins in your diet is never a bad idea.

Yeet that broccoli into my mouth, son.