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BOLD Indeed: Beef Lowers Cholesterol?

The beef industry designed a study to show that a diet containing beef was able to lower cholesterol if one cuts out enough poultry, pork, fish, and cheese to halve one’s total saturated fat intake.

October 9, 2013 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited


Images thanks to readerwalker and jclor via Flickr. Thanks to Stephane Lahaye and Ellen Reid for her keynote help.


Imagine you worked in the now defunct Twinkie division of Hostess Foods and wanted to take the tobacco industry tack of not just downplaying the risk of your product, but actually promoting it as healthy. How do you do that?

Your first problem is it has 2.5 grams of saturated fat, so that's going to raise cholesterol--the #1 risk factor of our #1 killer, heart disease. How are we going to get around that?

Well, what if you designed a study in which you took a bunch of people eating your archrival, Little Debbie cloud cakes. Now they only have 1 gram each, so what if you took a group eating 5 cloud cakes a day—5 grams of saturated fat--and then cut that saturated fat intake in half by switching them to eating 1 Twinkie a day. What would happen to their cholesterol levels? Cutting saturated fat consumption in half? Their cholesterol would go down. So technically they went from zero Twinkies a day to one Twinkie a day, and their cholesterol went down.

You publish it and crank out a press release. "New research shows that eating a Twinkie a day can be good for heart health by improving cholesterol levels. The media takes your press release and runs with it: "Consumers can eat a Twinkie every day if they choose and feel confident that science supports Twinkies’ healthy benefits, which now include cholesterol-lowering effects!” Twinkies, you just proved with science, have cholesterol-lowering effects. Too outlandish a scenario?

Check it out. This study, bought and paid for by the beef industry,added beef to people’s diets. At the same time they removed so much poultry, pork, fish, and cheese from their diet that they halved their saturated fat intake from 12% of their diet, down to 6% of their diet, so of course their cholesterol went down. If your diet goes from 12% saturated fat down to 6% saturated fat, it doesn't matter if that 6% comes from beef, chicken, lard, or Twinkies. If you cut your total saturated fat in half, your cholesterol will follow, especially if you eat more fiber and vegetable protein.

They conclude: The results of the BOLD study—standing for Beef in an Optimal Lean Diet—provide convincing evidence that lean beef can be included in a heart-healthy diet that meets current dietary recommendations and reduces cardiovascular disease risk. Crisco could be included. Krispy Crème could be included as long as you cut your total saturated fat intake. What they fail to mention is that risk would drop even lower if you dropped the beef, as was pointed out by the chair of nutrition at Harvard, who's previously pointed out that plant sources of protein are preferred.

The subjects in this study went from a high risk of dying from heart disease to a high risk of dying from heart disease. Remember we need to get our cholesterol down to 50, 60 or 70 to become essentially heart attack proof. For most people that means eliminated saturated animal fat and cholesterol intake completely.

This study is really just showing how bad saturated fat is from any animal source. Yes, based on saturated fat levels lean beef is often better than chicken (and Twinkies), but that's like touting the health benefits of Coca Cola because it has less sugar than Pepsi. It does--16 spoonfuls of sugar per bottle instead of just 15. Doesn't mean we wouldn't be better not consuming soda at all. Reminds me of this study "Cheese intake lowers cholesterol… compared, to butter.”

Yet here's the release, here's one of the 60 news outlets they brag about carrying their story. That's how they ended up with the cholesterol-lowering effects of beef. If you cut out enough poultry, pork, fish, and cheese from your diet, you could replace this with almost anything (bacon grease, candy, frosting, deep-fried snickers bars, sewer sludge, etc.)

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Ariel Levitsky.

To help out on the site please email

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

How are Americans exposed to saturated fat? Burgers actually fall well below chicken. See Trans Fat, Saturated Fat, and Cholesterol: Tolerable Upper Intake of Zero.

The beef industry is by no means alone in having a corrupting influence on the scientific method. See, for example:

For more on being heart attack “proof,” see Eliminating the #1 Cause of Death.

For more context, check out my associated blog post: How to Design a Misleading Study.

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • bad science

    Great video Dr. Greger.

    Have you seen this?

    • Michael Greger M.D.

      A classic!

    • Dave Bleicher

      Some good points Goldacre makes. But in the end, isn’t he still a vaccine promoting, pharmaceutical industry supporting shill of some sorts, when the truth is that our bodies need to be exposed to the antigens through natural exposure, creating mucosal response, enzymatic response, biliary response, the biggie – the response from the intestinal flora, and then cell mediated response, to effectively create humoral immunity that lasts, where the antibody survives much longer after healthier B cells create the antibody, as well as effective excretion through the colon and urinary tract, and skin, making our diet (with green leafy vegetables being very important) key, with tons of fruits & veggies, excluding bacteria and inflammation forming animal products and the TMAO from them?

  • BB

    This is one of the best videos I’ve seen to show how information can be misleading. Misleading is a mild descriptive. The BOLD study was down-right deceptive.

  • Plantstrongdoc M.D,

    Great video, showing how easy it is to conduct a (lousy) study to prove anything. Actually it is embarrassing to conduct a study like this. Science is not always science.

  • VegAtHeart

    Why do some studies show that nut consumption (which have significant saturated fat content) reduces the odds of heart disease? Or more specifically, what is it in nuts that compensates for the saturated fat to make it a heart healthy food?

    • Toxins

      I find it difficult to have applicability with the nut studies because they typically involve people consuming a standard American diet and then adding nuts. I would find results more intriguing comparing a very low fat diet to a diet that included a moderate amount of nuts.

    • Michael Greger M.D.

      I’ve got a bunch of videos on that! Check them out at

      So glad I can help!

      In health,

  • Fan

    I am interested in making a donation, however, I am not confident in the security on your donation page. I do not have paypal.

    • Toxins

      Paypal is a very safe tool for transferring money and is easy to establish. If you ever have problems paypal will also reimburse.

    • Michael Greger M.D.

      So kind of you to consider supporting this work! You can send a check made out to “” to:

      Michael Greger, M.D.
      700 Professional Dr.
      Gaithersburg, MD 20879

  • VeganVet

    Another great video! This is exactly the technique used in the Mediterranean diet study.

  • oderb

    Dr Geiger always seems to focus on Cholesterol and LDL cholesterol – and conveniently ignores two other major risk factors – tricyclerides and HDL.

    My experience and on the advice of my doctor eating a diet high in saturated fat while reducing carbs raises HDL and lowers my TG, and importantly significantly improves the TG/HDL ratio which is a more powerful indictor of heart disease risk than is total cholesterol. Since I changed my diet my risk factors have decreased and I sure enjoy my food a lot more – which is sort of the point of living, isn’t it?

    I would really appreciate a response from Dr Geiger.

    • Emm

      Hi oderb, I was about comment on the same lines. I know several people who had high cholesterol trying to eat whole grains and veggies, then switched to high fat/low carb, and their bad cholesterol went down, then their good cholesterol went up. Curious about a response :)

    • Toxins

      An atkins style diet, or “paleo” diet is discussed in great detail here by Dr. Greger

      If this type of diet is indeed what you are talking about, Dr. Greger looks at much more then cholesterol.

    • Darryl

      Available data suggest that simply increasing the amount of circulating high density lipoprotein cholesterol does not reduce the risk of coronary heart disease events, coronary heart disease deaths, or total deaths. The results support reduction in low density lipoprotein cholesterol as the primary goal for lipid modifying interventions.

      From: Briel, Matthias, et al. “Association between change in high density lipoprotein cholesterol and cardiovascular disease morbidity and mortality: systematic review and meta-regression analysis.” BMJ: British Medical Journal 338 (2009).

      • VegAtHeart

        Thanks for another amazingly educational post!

      • Toxins

        Excellent Darryl, I am looking forward to reading through the 8 studies posted at the end regarding low carb, high protein diets.

        • Darryl

          There’s not much else in the way of mortality data or large diet trials, at least according to these two more recent meta-analyses (1, 2). From the first you’ll see that in most diet vs. diet studies, “low-fat” isn’t low at all, dig further and discover dismal adherence in most trials, but I think they still give an idea of the direction if not magnitude of blood marker changes with adherence.

          I omitted fairly consistent evidence that ketogenic / LFHC adversely effect cognition, memory, and mood: 1, 23. I’m pretty sure Dr. Greger has covered this side effect in a prior video.

          • Toxins

            Yes, I have seen a few on cognitive function but the ones you presented are also new to me. Thanks for the additional information.

      • Toxins

        Darryl, may I ask, what is your occupation? You are very knowledgeable in nutrition. I myself am a student of nutrition and have much to learn, but I am curious about your field.

        • Darryl

          I’m in software, though I majored in biochemistry. Dr. Greger’s videos often inspire me to delve (sleepless nights on PubMed), but I post here from enthusasm rather than credentialed authority. It just helps me organize and remember my own findings. Its a great time to be a casual science fan, as anyone can search the last 45+ years of abstracts without leaving bed, read many papers in full, and listen to graduate seminars while walking the dog. I somewhat regret being on the sidelines, but my past self lacked the persistence for another decade of school & post-docs.

          • VegAtHeart

            That’s awesome Darryl! Who cares about credentials.
            You join the high company of Dr. Greger himself as a nutrition autodidact.

      • Plantstrongdoc M.D.

        This post is a big nail in the coffin for low-carb, high-protein, animal based diets.

  • brec

    Diction alert! “tobacco industry tact” — should be “tack”. A common error. This usage of “tack” derives from its nautical meaning of a sailing maneuver. “Tact”, on the other hand, is sensitivity in dealing with others.

    More relevantly.. The BOLD diet reduced SFA intake from 12 g to 6 g, not 12% to 6% of kcal; the percentages went from 27.9 to 15.4. This is per the study table displayed in the video.

    • Michael Greger M.D.

      Thank you so much brec! I corrected tact for tack. I think I got the percentage right, though. You can tell the parenthetical number is the grams, because otherwise they would be getting 287% of their calories from carbohydrates :)

      • Plantstrongdoc M.D.

        Carbs are healthfood, so 287% are OK – you just need a bigger plate……

  • Jules

    Oh that sneaky beef industry ! I am vegan and plan to stay that way! They can keep their bull !

  • falsifying data
  • Kim Hoover

    Hi Dr. Greger,
    I thought the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition was a peer-review scientific journal. How did they justify publishing this?

    • VegAtHeart

      This is a very reasonable question, since it would seemingly require a conspiracy to publish such a preposterous paper! Yet this paper found its way into a major nutrition journal of respectable impact factor.
      My opinion is that the peer review process for most journals is an imperfect filtration of bad papers. Typically only two scientists in the field have to approve of a paper for it to get published. Sometimes even one positive enough reviewer can persuade the journal editor to accept the paper. In cases where a paper is rejected, the authors are entitled to re-submit their paper to other journals. Each additional iteration of peer review will increase the odds that a favourable reviewer is found. Thus, for persistent enough authors, finding a suitable match is inevitable.
      Furthermore, scientists are rewarded primarily based on the number of times a paper is cited. So, in theory, a paper could be cited 300 times, all citations of which argue that the paper is dreadfully bad and yet this would be of great value to a scientist’s career in terms of grant and award earning potential.
      So now you understand the temptation to become a scientist. You are revered as if you belong to the modern priestly caste and the secret to success is nothing more than persistence.

  • Ben O’Loughlin

    Thank you, Dr Greger!

  • Mike Quinoa

    Amazing video Dr. Greger. I have to compliment you on your choice of graphics and visuals—true eye candy. They make your videos not only educational, but entertaining as well.

  • Jess

    Cholesterol does not cause heart disease, nor saturated fat. Get you fact straight.

    • Plantstrongdoc M.D.

      WOW! With this kind of very strong arguments, backed up by references to countless scientific articles, you will convince everybody…….NOT

    • Toxins

      Evidence for your statements?

    • d1stewart

      Well, in fact both saturated fat and cholesterol cause heart disease in monkeys, apes, horses, and numerous other animals that are not obligate carnivores or true omnivores (which have the physiological equipment to eat meat, such as dogs). And humans fall into the same category as the other animals–animals in whom cholesterol and saturated fat do cause heart disease, or atherosclerosis. The reason is that meat is not a natural or appropriate food for humans–as evidenced by its causing numerous diseases in humans.

      Those are straight facts. Get yours straight.

  • M85

    I get the impression that studies on fish eating populations are similiar to this: these people often don’t consume meat or dairy and that might be the reason they live longer not because they eat fish. The traditional okinawan diet was almost 99% vegan with only about 15 grams of fish daily and then people say it’s the fish that makes them live long!

  • mykamakiri

    Dr Greger,

    Thank you for being a continuing source of inspiration.

    Would you consider doing a video about raising pets on vegan food? I imagine this could be quite relevant to a lot of your readers.

    Keep up the amazing work!

    • Thea

      mykamakiri: You may be interested in a talk given by Armaiti May, DVM. She’s been talking about vegan dogs and cats for years. The link below is to page of a bunch of videos. But if you scroll down, you can find Armaiti’s talk from 2011. I saw the most recent version a couple weeks ago and it was great.

      FYI: I’ve been feeding my Great Dane a vegan kibble for about 4 years now. He’s 10 years old (which is good for a Great Dane) and is doing fantastic health-wise. One of the tricks is to get the right vegan kibble as they are not all the same in terms of nutrients.

      Hope you find that helpful.

      • mykamakiri

        Thank you so much for this.

  • d1stewart

    Dear Dr G: The correct word is “tack,” not “tact.” “Tack” is a nautical metaphor for setting a direction; “tact” is social sensitivity in behavior–not an abbreviation for “tactic.” “…and wanted to take the tobacco industry tact” should be “and wanted to take the tack of the tobacco industry.”

  • d1stewart

    This is a great piece. Dissecting how the beef industry–and, it should be added, several academics who have deplorable scholarly standards and should be ashamed of themselves–lie with statistics and tell a whole lie with a partial truth.

  • Toxins

    I am not saying that nuts are unhealthy, but even the Adventists do not have the same type of whole foods plant based diet you or I follow.

  • oderb

    You apparently did not read what I wrote. I said that my HDL went up as a result of diet, not medication. The two should not be equated.Just look at diabetes drugs that bring down glucose while doing nothing for mortality, unlike diet which can lower glucose and mortality.

    And you neglected to mention that the side effects you list are found in mice. Are you aware of any high quality studies that show similar effects in humans? I’d like to see them.