Transcript: Switching from Beef to Chicken & Fish May Not Lower Cholesterol
In light of recommendations for heart-healthy eating from national professional organizations encouraging Americans to limit their intake of meat, the beef industry commissioned and co-wrote this review of randomized controlled trials comparing the effects of beef versus chicken and fish on cholesterol levels published over the last 60 years. They found that the impact of beef consumption on the cholesterol profile of humans is similar to that of fish and/or poultry, meaning that switching from red meat to white meat likely wouldn’t make any difference. And that’s really no surprise, given how fat we’ve genetically manipulated chickens to be these days–up to ten times more fat than they had a century ago. So there are a number of cuts of beef that have less cholesterol-raising saturated fat than chicken, so no surprise that white meat was found to be no better than red. But their conclusion was that therefore you can eat beef as part of a balanced diet to manage your cholesterol. That’s just like the Coke versus Pepsi thing. Even though Coke has less sugar than Pepsi–16 spoonfuls of sugar per bottle instead of just 15. If studies on blood sugar found no difference between drinking Coke versus Pepsi, you wouldn’t conclude that Pepsi may be considered when recommending diets for the management of blood sugars; you’d say they're both just as bad, so we should ideally consume neither.
That’s a standard drug industry trick, to compare your fancy new drug not to the best out there, but to some miserable drug to make yours look better. Note they didn’t compare beef to plant proteins, like in this study. But I was surprised as I started reading this that they found no benefit to switching to a plant protein diet either. What were they eating? Plant protein diet on the left; animal protein diet on the right. Breakfast looks ok. Instead of a burger for lunch, the plant group got a kidney bean and tomato casserole and a salad; nice. And dinner, instead of another burger, just some boring vegetables. Why was the cholesterol of the plant group as bad as the animal group? Oh, because they had the plant protein group eating three tablespoons of beef tallow every day–three tablespoons of straight beef fat margarine–well, no wonder.
This was part of a series of studies that tried to figure out what was so cholesterol-raising about meat—was it the animal protein, or was it the animal fat? So they created fake meat products made to have the same amount of saturated fat and cholesterol by adding extracted animal fats and cholesterol. Who could they get to make such strange concoctions? The Ralston Purina dog food company.
But what’s crazy is that even if you do keep the saturated animal fat and cholesterol the same, by adding meat fats to the veggie burgers, and making the plant group swallow cholesterol pills to equal it out, sometimes you still see an advantage in the plant protein group. See how they had them switch diets halfway through and their cholesterol levels switched as well?
You switch people from meat to tofu, their cholesterol goes down. But what if you switch them from meat to tofu plus lard! Then their cholesterol may stay the same, though tofu and lard may indeed actually be better than meat, since it may result in less oxidized cholesterol. So even just swapping plant protein for animal protein may have advantages, but if we really want to maximize the power of diet to lower cholesterol, we may want to move entirely to plants. The standard dietary advice to cut down on fatty meat, dairy, and eggs may lower cholesterol 5% to 10%, but flexitarian or vegetarian diets may drop our levels 10% to 15%, vegan diets 15% to 25%, and healthier vegan diets up to 35%–like this study showing a 61-point drop in LDL cholesterol within a matter of weeks.
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 Katie Schloer.
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