Why Chicken Could Be Just as Bad for You as Red Meat

Updated: May 11, 2021

If you've given up juicy steaks for bland chicken breast, it may not be helping your cholesterol as much as you thought.

raw whole chicken ready for cooking or roast on rustic kitchen table over dark background, side view.VICUSCHKA/Shutterstock

If you have given up red meat in hopes of lowering your cholesterol, make sure you’re not replacing it with chicken. A grilled chicken breast sounds healthier than a juicy steak, but that may not be the case. Researchers at the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute set out to determine which types of meat raise cholesterol, and while it’s not one of the 10 worst foods for your cholesterol, chicken tied with red meat for its effects.

The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, analyzed the effects of red meat, white meat, and plant-based protein sources on cholesterol levels. Healthy adults between the ages of 21 and 65 were assigned to groups in which they were allowed to red meat, white meat, and plant-based protein, each for a four-week period. The order of the proteins was random for each group. The results surprised the researchers, they said a press release.

“When we planned this study, we expected red meat to have a more adverse effect on blood cholesterol levels than white meat, but we were surprised that this was not the case—their effects on cholesterol are identical when saturated fat levels are equivalent,” said Ronald Krauss, MD, study author and director of atherosclerosis research at the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute.

According to the study, both red and white meat raised levels of LDL (or bad) cholesterol in the participants. This was true for participants eating white meat, regardless of other types of saturated fats in their diets. The researchers found that plant-based proteins like beans and legumes are by far the healthiest options for blood cholesterol. Incorporating these 12 foods that help lower cholesterol naturally is a great place to start.

The study authors concluded that replacing red and white meat with plant-based proteins would be beneficial for those focused on lowering their cholesterol. And while you’re at it, be sure to avoid these other foods high in cholesterol. Overall though, white meat is still a better option than red. “Our results indicate that current advice to restrict red meat and not white meat should not be based only on their effects on blood cholesterol,” Dr. Krauss said in a press release. “Indeed, other effects of red meat consumption could contribute to heart disease, and these effects should be explored in more detail in an effort to improve health.”

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Originally Published on Reader's Digest