Lean red meat may have place in low-fat diet, study says
June 28, 1999
(CNN) -- If you are trying to lower your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of a heart attack, you might think you have to pass up a good steak. But a study in this week's Archives of Internal Medicine says you can enjoy lean red meat, as you would lean chicken or fish, and still lower your cholesterol.
"Lean red meat contains stearic acid and monounsaturated fats, which do not raise cholesterol. So the total cholesterol-raising fat in lean red meat are not that much different from chicken and fish," said Dr. Michael Davidson of Chicago Center for Clinical Research.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins, the Chicago Center for Clinical Research and the University of Minnesota Hospital and Clinics studied 191 adults with elevated cholesterol levels on a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet that included lean meat.
At random, patients were assigned to consume 80 percent of their meat from lean red meats, beef, veal or pork, or to eat lean white meats, fish or poultry. Study participants ate 6 ounces of lean meat five to seven days a week.
In the end, both those who ate lean white meat and those who ate lean red meat had nearly identical changes in cholesterol levels. All participants had an average decrease of 1 to 3 percent in LDL, or bad cholesterol, and an average increase of 2 percent in HDL, or good cholesterol.
"Chicken and fish traditionally have been considered healthier than red meat because many cuts of red meat can have too much saturated fat," said Dr. Peter O. Kwiterovich, director of the Johns Hopkins University Lipid Clinic. "Now, lean cuts of red meat are readily available to consumers. If you follow a heart-healthy diet, it doesn't make a difference whether you eat red meat or white meat, as long as you choose lean cuts."
Although researchers found cholesterol levels went down a small bit, some say for those at high risk of coronary heart disease, the amount of saturated fat in lean red meat is still too high.
"These are very, very small effects and should not be used to say that we are changing our assessment to dietary approaches to reducing cholesterol," said Dr. Ronald Krauss of the American Heart Association (AHA).
The headlines from this study, funded by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, are enticing but in reality are nothing new.
"These very small changes match very closely the results that would have been predicted from the formulas that have been developed over many years of research," said Krauss.
The chief culprit in raising blood cholesterol is saturated fat, which is found mostly in foods that come from animals, such as meats, poultry, fish and dairy products.
According to the AHA, a good diet includes no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol each day and has a total saturated fat intake of only 8 to 10 percent of total calorie intake.
Krauss added that the study was limited, looking only at lean red meat compared to lean white meat. He said meat is a very small part of a cholesterol-reducing diet, which includes fruits, vegetables, dairy products and grains.
Medical Correspondent Holly Firfer contributed to this report.
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Archives of Internal Medicine
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