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Can You Eat Beef and Lower Your Cholesterol?

Can You Eat Beef and Lower Your Cholesterol?

Health and Wellness

February 26, 2012

Oatmeal, fish, olive oil and nuts are all well known for their cholesterol-lowering properties. But what about beef? New research suggests that a diet including leanbeef can actually be effective in lowering LDL cholesterol – just as effective, in fact, as some other popular, heart-healthy diets.

According to the study from The Pennsylvania State University researchers, the inclusion of lean beef (4.0 oz/day) or the partial replacement of carbohydrates with protein (including lean beef) in a low-saturated fat diet significantly decreased LDL cholesterol. Despite commonly held beliefs about beef, study participants experienced a 10% decrease in LDL cholesterol from the start of the study, while consuming diets that contained fewer than 7% of their calories from saturated fats. 

In this study, the effect on LDL cholesterol was compared with diets containing varying amount of lean beef, and those diets were compared with that of a healthy American diet (HAD). The other diets tested in the study were: Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH); Beef in Optimal Lean Diet (BOLD); and Beef in Optimal Lean Diet Plus (BOLD +). 

Although BOLD and DASH diets were both rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products, the diets differed in their primary protein source. The BOLD and BOLD + diet’s primary protein source came from lean beef while DASH and HAD included white meat and plant protein. The BOLD diet included an average of 4.0 oz/day of lean beef, and the BOLD + diet included 5.4 oz/day of lean beef, while the HAD and DASH diets included 0.7 and 1.0 oz/day of lean beef, respectively.

Previously, no known studies have evaluated a low saturated fat diet that also contains lean beef as the predominant protein source. Dr. Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD, Distinguished Professor of Nutrition in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at The Pennsylvania State University, said that some of the secondary findings on emerging risk factors for cardiovascular disease were unexpected. She was most surprised to see the decrease in blood pressure on the BOLD + diet compared with average American diet.

“While nutritionists know that lean beef can be included in a heart healthy diet, many health professionals and consumers do not think this is possible, perhaps because of what they have heard about higher fat and higher saturated fat cuts of meat. However, I do think that the lean beef scenario is similar to that for dairy products where we recommend skim milk and low-fat dairy products over full fat dairy products so that saturated fat recommendations can be met,” says Kris-Etherton.

Kris-Etherton points out, that when purchasing beef, it is important for consumers to be mindful of the types of cuts, preparation techniques, and portion control. Although there are more than 29 cuts of beef that meet lean beef criteria, many grocery stores feature the following cuts: top loin and top round steaks, top sirloin bottom round roast, and 95% lean ground beef. Regular hamburger (70% lean and 30% fat), a very popular “cut of meat,” is higher in total fat and saturated fat making it challenging to meet saturated fat recommendations, especially if large portions are consumed (and this is quite common among many Americans).  

The lean beef used in the study was primarily select-grade top round, chuck shoulder pot roast, and 95% lean ground beef. The meat was prepared via braising, grilling, or frying (95% lean ground beef only) and never over an open flame to prevent charring. Menus were created for a 6-day diet cycle across a range of calorie amounts (1800-3600 kcal/d).

Kris-Etherton says consumers can include portion-controlled servings of lean beef (cooked appropriately) in a heart healthy diet that meets all other food-based recommendations. Specifically, the diet should meet recommendations for fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy products, legumes, and liquid vegetable oils. Lean beef can be a major protein source. But consumers should additionally follow guidance about including two servings of fish per week (preferably fatty) in the diet.

“Also,” she says, “I would advise consuming a variety of protein foods, of which lean beef can be at the top of the list."

Retailers and their meat department staff and dietitians are on the front lines with consumers and serve as a top source for dietary guidance. Shoppers are looking to their retailer/grocery store for nutrition information. Because of this, any merchandising and labeling programs in place at the retail level can communicate beef’s nutrition to shoppers. Stores should also ensure their meat department staff is knowledgeable about beef’s nutrition.

“With the research from the BOLD Study published, I am hopeful that health professionals can instruct their patients to include portion-controlled servings of lean beef, cooked appropriately in a heart healthy diet,” says Kris-Etherton.