Where’s the beef? Red meat can be part of low-cholesterol diet

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:

  • Diet No. 1: the “healthy American diet,” which included fruits, vegetables, oils, saturated fat and refined grains;
  • Diet No. 2: the DASH diet, a diet containing mostly fruits and veggies that is often recommended for patients with high blood pressure; and
  • Diet No. 3 & 4: included 4-oz. and 5.5-oz lean meat per day in the form of grilled, braised or fried top round, chuck shoulder pot roast and 95% lean ground beef.

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.

About cholesterol
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:

  • Eye of round roast and steak
  • Sirloin tip side steak
  • Top round roast and steak
  • Bottom round roast and steak
  • Top sirloin steak
  • Brisket- flat half
  • 95% lean ground beef
  • Round tip roast and steak
  • Round steak
  • Shank cross cuts
  • Chuck shoulder pot roast
  • Sirloin tip center roast and steak
  • Chuck shoulder steak
  • Bottom round steak
  • Top loin (strip steak)
  • Shoulder petite tender and medallions
  • Flank steak
  • Shoulder center (ranch) steak
  • Tri-tip roast and steak
  • Tenderloin roast and steak
  • T-bone steak