Beef Entrecôte

Red or White, Too Much Meat Can Be a Problem

Source, USDA / Our World in Data/ BBC

For nearly five decades now, beef consumption has been dropping. Poultry has risen. Why? Because of a steady stream of warnings that red meat raises the risk of heart disease. But a new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition raises questions about this conventional wisdom. In a randomized, controlled study, researchers found no difference in the effects of red and white meat on cholesterol levels.

However, they did see a difference with people consuming only plant-based proteins. That group had lower levels of bad cholesterol than either group consuming animal proteins.

Saturated Fats Are an Issue

It’s worth noting that the study design also tested low versus high saturated fat consumption. No surprises there. Consuming more saturated fats led to higher levels of bad cholesterol. Red or white or plant protein made no difference. More saturated fat was a problem regardless of the protein source.

It’s important to note that red and white meat in this study was all lean. But in the real world, red meat tends to be fattier. More fat means more saturated fat and thus more cardiovascular risk.

Stepping Back

This is a well controlled study. So it tells us a few things reliably. First, saturated fat is a legitimate concern. (Sorry about that, Nina Teicholz.) Also, if we’re eating lean meat, it might make little difference whether it’s red or white. And finally, plant based proteins may have some advantages in terms of lower risk for heart disease.

This will not be the final word on red versus white meat and animal versus plant proteins. We’ve mentioned before that whole diets matter more than single nutrients. You can be sure that perfectly healthy diets are possible with both animal and plant proteins. Possibly, we could benefit from relying a bit more on plant protein. Certainly the planet would.

Click here for the study and here for the press release.

Beef Entrecôte, photograph © Jani Hiltunen / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


Month x, 2019

2 Responses to “Red or White, Too Much Meat Can Be a Problem”

  1. June 05, 2019 at 11:08 am, Mary-jo said:

    Back in the ‘ancient’ 70’s, it was always thought that the skin of poultry was comprised mainly of unsaturated fat, but I didn’t trust this axiom. I never could convince the lab tech at the hospital to do a lipid profile on some chicken skin for me 😜, but I observed that chicken fat starts to get solid at room temp and is hard when cold, so, I just surmised it had to be more saturated than people said. I always advised patients to try to take the skin off of poultry and pork, to skim fat off chicken soup as much as they could, and to choose lean red meat. There just was too much evidence linking sat fat to clogged arteries, so I felt I had to inform, accordingly. Same with coconut, whole milk fat, and butter — glad I stuck to my guns despite social media hyping it up as not just healthy, but miracle fats. When ‘warnings’ from social media nutrition stars started to surface about the high carb content of protein rich legumes and how they were ‘fattening’, I knew we were really starting to wade knee deep in bs weighted muddy waters. So glad to see some sense re-emerging.

  2. June 05, 2019 at 12:29 pm, Bruce Daggy said:

    Beyond the saturated fat consideration, red meat is a rich source of heme iron. Excess iron consumption is not a good thing. For example, there are associations between red meat intake and risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). With that in mind, I’ll be making a black bean burger for lunch today.