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.
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.
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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.
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