White meat, so far considered less harmful than red meat, may not be that innocuous to cardiac health, according to a new study. Michael Eccles/Flickr

Aficionados of the chewy, chunky red meat need not feel any more guilty than their white meat-eating counterparts. People gorging themselves on flaky and fluffy white meat like chicken thinking it is safer than red meat for keeping blood cholesterol under check may be in for a shock if a new study in California is true. The surprise result of the study involving three diets is that red meat like lamb and veal is only as much a villain as white meat in raising the cholesterol, an article on the study says. Vegetarians can have the last laugh as plant-based diet is associated with the most healthy cholesterol levels, the article that has appeared in LiveScience says.

"When we planned this study, we expected red meat to have a more adverse effect on blood cholesterol levels than white meat, but we were surprised that this was not the case," said Dr Ronald Krauss, a senior scientist and director of atherosclerosis research at the Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI) in California. "Their effects on cholesterol are identical when saturated fat levels are equivalent."

Researchers looked at 113 healthy people, who were randomly assigned to a diet that was either high or low in saturated fat in the study called the APPROACH — Animal and Plant Protein and Cardiovascular Health.

The participants refrained from taking vitamin supplements and drinking alcohol during the study. Then, the participants cycled through three different diets: red meat (primarily beef) diet, a white meat (mainly chicken and turkey) diet, and a nonmeat protein (legumes, nuts, grains and soy products) diet. Each diet period lasted four weeks. Between each diet periods, the individuals were subjected to a "washout period", during which they ate their regular food. The participants had blood tests at the start and finish of each diet type, the article says.

Fat derived from vegetarian sources is least damaging for cardiovascular health.Pixabay

The results showed that participants in the high-saturated fat group had more total and LDL cholesterol levels than people in the low-saturated fat group. In fact, both red and white meat raised LDL levels, irrespective of the amount of saturated fat in the diet.

The researchers found that white and red meats had the same effect on blood cholesterol levels. Saturated fats occur naturally in foods like fatty beef, poultry with skin, butter and cream and cheeses, says American Heart Association. High levels of LDL cholesterol from saturated fats cause plaque to grow in a person's blood vessels – a condition known as atherosclerosis – increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

The study revealed no significant differences in the amounts of LDL particles of different sizes in people while on the white meat and red meat diets. But eating lots of saturated fat was associated with higher concentrations of the "fluffier" large LDL particles. In all, they found that these fluffy LDL particles increased more in the red and white meat diets, compared with the plant-based diets.

The findings go against current government dietary guidelines, which encourage people to eat poultry as a healthier alternative to red meat. However, until now, there hasn't been a comprehensive comparison of the health effects of eating red meat, white meat and nonmeat proteins, the article said citing Krauss. The study was published online on Tuesday (June 4) in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.