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How do red and white meats affect cholesterol levels?

Meats are very important for a healthy diet, although there are disputes over which are better, white or red.

Here we tell you what are the main differences between each one, their benefits, precautions that you should take into account when you consume them and how they impact on cholesterol levels.

White meats

White meat is considered to be all that does not come from mammals, the most common being fish or poultry meat, such as chicken and turkey. However, rabbit meat is also often included in this category.

This type of meat is characterized by being pink or whitish when raw, due to the fact that it has small proportions of myoglobin inside (less than 0.5%), a protein responsible for the movement of muscles. Its energy nutrients are:

  • ProteinAlthough they are usually considered of lower quality than those present in red meat, they can equal or exceed them in quantity, reaching concentrations of 28%.
  • Fats: depending on the cut and cooking method, they represent between 1 and 30%.

They also have iron, although in less quantity than red meat, phosphorus, potassium, iodine and zinc. Another difference from red meats is that they have a lower amount of a type of compound called purines, making them easier to digest.

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Its consumption is usually linked to the prevention of overweight or obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. However, specialists warn that this will depend on the type of cut that is chosen, if visible fat is removed before cooking and if it is accompanied by a healthy diet.

The recommended consumption of white meat is around 300 g per day, two or three times a week. If this intake is exceeded for prolonged periods there is a risk of liver and kidney problems.

Red meat

Red meat is considered to be all that comes from mammals, the most common being pork, beef, or lamb.

They are characterized by being pink or reddish when raw, due to the fact that they have a higher proportion of myoglobin inside (more than 1%) than white meats. Its energy nutrients are:

Protein: they offer amounts that vary between 15 and 25%, depending on the cut.

Fats: depending on the cut and cooking method, they represent around 20%.

They also have significant amounts of iron, phosphorus, potassium, and various vitamins. However, they concentrate a greater amount of purines than white meats, which in our body end up producing uric acid, a compound that in excess can increase the risk of different diseases.

The moderate consumption of red meat is linked to the prevention of anemia, increased protein metabolism, muscle development, maintenance of the central nervous system and strengthening of defenses, reducing the impact of oxidative stress.

Red meat has a higher proportion of myoglobin in its interior (more than 1%) than white meat (less than 0.5%). | Photo: IStock.

Red meat has a higher proportion of myoglobin in its interior (more than 1%) than white meat (less than 0.5%).

As with white meats, this will depend on the type of cut that is chosen, if visible fat is removed before cooking and if it is accompanied by a healthy diet.

The recommended consumption of red meat is around 350 g per day, two or three times a week. If this intake is exceeded for prolonged periods there is an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, joint problems, and kidney damage.

Effects on cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in every cell in the body. Our body needs it to produce hormones, vitamin D and compounds that facilitate the digestion of food.

When you have a lot of cholesterol in your blood, it can combine with other substances to form plaque, a substance that sticks to the walls of the blood vessels, narrowing or blocking the arteries.

This can trigger various cardiovascular problems, such as blood clots, strokes, or heart attacks.

Several factors are known to raise the risk of high cholesterol:

  • Consuming alcohol excessively.
  • To smoke.
  • Be of age.
  • Be sedentary.
  • Being overweight or obese.
  • Have a family history.
  • Having a poor diet.

For a long time it was believed that the impact of red meat on blood cholesterol was greater than that of white meat, since the proportions they present are as follows:

  • White meats: provides between 40 and 80 mg of cholesterol for every 100 g of meat.
  • Red meat: provides between 80 and 110 mg of cholesterol for every 100 g of meat.

However, there is evidence that the two types do not differ in their effects on cholesterol.

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A study published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition analyzed 113 people who consumed diets rich in protein from red meat, white meat and non-meat sources, such as legumes, nuts and soy products.

“When we planned this study, we expected that red meat would have a more adverse effect on blood cholesterol levels than white meat, but we were surprised that this was not the case: its effects on cholesterol are identical when levels of saturated fat are equivalent, “explained Ronald Krauss, lead author of the study.

To reduce the chances of other factors affecting cholesterol levels, participants were asked to maintain their basal activity level and refrain from alcohol.

They were also advised to maintain their weight during the study period, and in case this was modified, the calorie dose was adjusted.

How to control cholesterol levels

Blood cholesterol levels can be lowered through healthy lifestyle changes:

  • Eating correctly: consuming meat in moderate portions, without neglecting the intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes and cereals.
  • Control weight.
  • Avoid or limit tobacco and alcohol.
  • Avoid or limit the intake of ultra-processed products, rich in fats, salts, and sugar.
  • Get regular exercise.

Sources consulted: American Heart Association, Comprehensive Natural Medicines Database, US National Library of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, US Department of Agriculture.

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