If you have high cholesterol, you might not need to skip the steak after all — just don’t plan on ordering the rib eye. A recent study conducted by Pennsylvania State University researchers and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that a well-rounded diet, complete with lean beef, may actually lower cholesterol just as effectively as a sans-beef diet.
The study summary
This new research contradicts what we’ve heard time and time again: Red meat is a red flag for those trying to avoid high cholesterol. Between late 2007 and early 2009, researchers followed 36 people with borderline-high cholesterol who were given four different diets, all of which contained about the same number of calories, for five weeks each:
The results indicated that the “healthy American diet” slightly raised cholesterol, while the DASH diet and lean-beef-inclusive diets lowered LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol from an average of 139 mg/dL to 129 mg/dL and lowered total cholesterol from an average of 211 mg/dL to 200 mg/dL.
LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, cholesterol is considered the “bad” cholesterol because elevated LDL levels can cause plaque to form in artery walls and are thus associated with increased risk of heart disease. HDL, or high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, is considered the “good” cholesterol because high HDL levels help prevent the development of heart disease.
What qualifies as lean meat?
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, “lean meat” means it contains less than 10 g of fat, 4.5 g or less of saturated fat and less than 95 mg of cholesterol per a 3.5-oz. serving. “Extra-lean meat” means the cut has less than 5 g of total fat, 2 g or less of saturated fat and less than 95 mg of cholesterol per a 3.5-oz. serving.
If you’re watching your cholesterol, here’s a list of cuts of meat that “make the cut” for “lean beef” labeling, in order from least to most fat content: