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Is chicken as bad as red meat?

Health professionals have long advised meat consumers to opt for white meat, such as chicken, instead of red meat. But is it really the choice of a healthier diet? This is what a new study was intended to determine, and the results surprised even the researchers themselves. This is what they learned.

L & # 39; study

grilled beef steaksCredit: Magone / Getty Images

The study on the effects of red meat, white meat and vegetable protein has recently been published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Scientists from the Oakland Research Institute of Children's Hospital of California, California, wanted to evaluate the impact of different protein sources on cholesterol and the risk of cardiovascular disease, particularly in the extent to which dietary recommendations are generally aimed at avoiding red meat, while other sources have not been the subject of in-depth studies. about. The assumption has been that saturated fat in red meat is what increases a person's risk of cardiovascular disease more than leaner protein sources.

The researchers recruited 113 generally healthy women and men aged 21 to 65 and randomly assigned them to a group consuming foods high in saturated fats or another diet low in saturated fats. All participants had three test regimens: a red meat diet, a white meat diet and a meatless diet. They ate each of these diets for four weeks, followed by a "weaning period" of two to seven weeks during which they were allowed to resume consumption of their usual foods.

Participants regularly met with clinic staff to receive their study foods and dietary advice, as well as to be weighed, their blood pressure taken and their blood tests taken. They were required to maintain their weight and their basic activity level throughout the duration of the study.

Cereal-fed beef was the main source of red meat used in the study, accounting for the majority of beef sold in the United States. Chicken was the main white meat. Legumes, nuts, cereals and soy products were the mainstays of the meatless diet. And eggs, dairy and vegetables offered protein for all diets. Seafood and processed meats were excluded from all diets because the study was not designed to test them and did not want other factors to complicate the results.

In addition, high-fat dairy products, such as butter, were the main source of saturated fats to achieve the desired difference between high saturated fat and low saturated fat groups. And for the meat-free diet, saturated fats came mainly from tropical oils and fats.

Participants received rotational menus available at five total caloric levels. They got all the foods and caloric drinks in the study – with the exception of fresh produce, which they had to buy themselves to ensure their freshness. They were also not allowed to consume alcohol during the study, even during the weaning periods.

Compliance with the testing regimes has been closely monitored to ensure quality results. So what did the researchers discover?

The results

Lentil soupCredit: CGissemann / Getty Images

The researchers hypothesized that the red meat diet high in saturated fat would increase cholesterol more than the rest of the diet combinations. But their results surprised them.

"When we planned this study, we expected red meat to have a more negative effect on blood cholesterol levels than white meat, but we were surprised that this was not the case – their effects on cholesterol levels are the same when saturated fat levels are equivalent, "study author Ronald Krauss said in a press release.

As expected, participants in the high saturated fat group had higher total cholesterol and LDL levels (also called "bad" cholesterol), regardless of their protein source. So for those looking to lower their cholesterol or risk of cardiovascular disease, limiting saturated fat is a good place to start. But, regardless of this, the choice of proteins also seems to be a major factor. And exchanging beef for chicken may not be enough.

"The results were remarkable because they indicated that a total restriction of the meat, whether it is red or white, is more recommended for lowering blood cholesterol than we thought previously, "according to the press release. "The study found that plant proteins are the healthiest for blood cholesterol."

The authors of the study noted that other aspects of red meat could contribute to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease – potentially more than white meat. So it is still too preliminary to say how they compare in the whole. These effects require further studies before definitive dietary recommendations can be made.

Nevertheless, this study points out that exchanging animal protein for vegetable protein is a much healthier choice for your heart – not to mention the welfare of animals and the environment.

For a healthy heart, the American Heart Association recommends choosing vegetable proteins, such as beans, as well as fish (if you eat animal products). "Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish and some plant sources, as part of a healthy diet for the heart, can help reduce the risk of heart failure, coronary heart disease, heart failure and stroke. the most common type of stroke (ischemic), "it says.

If you eat meat, the American Heart Association recommends that you limit each portion to about 2 to 3 ounces, choose lean cuts, eliminate as much fat as possible and use healthy cooking methods, such as than baking. Also, avoid processed meats, as well as seasonings high in sodium.

"Many people choose not to eat meat for a variety of reasons, including health," says the American Heart Association. "You can get all the nutrients your body needs without eating meat." And this new study gave us all another good reason to opt for vegetable proteins.

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