White meat vs. red meat – the truth about cholesterol

August 21, 2019 Providence Nutrition Team


In this article: 

  • A diet high in red meat, and meat in general, has been linked to cardiovascular conditions and cancer. 

  • Limiting meat consumption, even by one day a week can help reduce risk.

  • Providence physicians say that processed meats increase the risk of disease and recommend limiting as much as possible.

Many of us know that a diet high in red meat can lead to serious health problems, like heart attack and stroke. Red meat, like beef, lamb, and pork, usually has more saturated fat, which can increase the cholesterol level in your blood and raise your risk for heart disease.

But recent research shows that eating more white meat instead of red meat won’t necessarily result in lower levels of cholesterol, including levels of “bad” cholesterol (called LDL cholesterol).

If your diet is predominately meat, or if you eat more than the recommended amount per week, try balancing it out with plant-based alternatives.

The Data

A recent study, which was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in June 2019, showed:

  • Eating high amounts of both red and white meat caused higher levels of cholesterol/risk of heart disease
  • Choosing white meat over red meat showed no evidence of lowering cholesterol/risk of heart disease
  • Eating plant-based diets low in saturated fat lowered cholesterol/risk of heart disease

How carnivores can find a healthy balance

You don’t have to give meat up entirely.  

Start with Meatless Mondays

You’ve probably heard of the Meatless Monday trend, which has grown in popularity over the last few years. The movement encourages people to avoid eating meat one day a week and instead, eat plant-based meals throughout the day.

Meatless Monday is a great way to ease into veggie-focused meals. Start with one day a week (it doesn’t have to be Monday, either) and gradually work your way up to more days. Try these vegetarian recipes to ease your way in. You could also encourage your friends and family members to join in and make it a community effort.

Keep it lean 

When you decide to eat meat, the American Heart Association (AHA) says it’s best to choose lean meat whenever possible. But here’s the catch to make sure you’re getting a benefit out of the substitution – limit your serving to no more than 5.5 ounces of lean meat per day.  Examples include:

  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Poultry without the skin
  • Meats labeled “loin,” “round,” or “sirloin”

Keep in mind that a two- or three-ounce serving of meat is about the size of a deck of cards.

Don’t make meat the main

A great way to reduce meat in your diet is by making plant-based foods the star of your plate, rather than meat. Instead, try having a small portion of meat as a side dish. You could also try adding some diced chicken or shrimp to a salad or whole wheat pasta dish.

Avoid processed meats

Above all, it’s important to limit the amount of processed meat in your diet. Processed meat has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease as well as stomach and colorectal cancers.

Processed meats include meats that have been cured, smoked or salted, such as bacon, deli meat and hot dogs. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends avoiding these meats as much as possible and saving them only for special occasions.


Find a doctor

Are you looking for more advice on plant-based diets and healthy eating? Your doctor or dietician can help you find ways to incorporate healthy, plant-based foods into your daily diet. You can find a Providence doctor using our provider directory.

Through Providence Express Care Virtual, you can also access a full range of healthcare services. 

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Related resources

Ask a Dietitian: Should I Eat a Plant-Based Diet?

Healthy Tailgating – It’s Possible!

Foods that Make You Overeat and What to Eat Instead

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

We are all about food! The Providence Nutrition Team loves to talk about and share our expertise on how to help you find the right diet, food types and maintenance tactics to help you live life to the fullest...while also enjoying the best foods that mother nature has to offer.

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