Updated: Jul 6, 2020
That's the short answer. I think you want the long answer, though (unless you're my husband, who lovingly encourages me to write shorter blogs). I'm advocating that you eat meat at least once a day, ideally three times a day. I'm encouraging you to have your daughters eat meat. And your sons, of course. I want you to feel good about this decision, and so let's go through some of the actual science.
This series will be a multi-part-er. There is just too much information I want to share with you.
Ok, let's start with the questions!
Does elevated cholesterol raise your risk for heart disease?
This is actually not the case at all. In fact, high triglycerides are more associated with more of a risk of heart disease.
A common cause of high triglycerides are excess carbohydrates in your diet.
High triglycerides (over 150) are associated with a variety of illnesses, including heart disease, pancreatitis and diabetes. This is because triglycerides over 150 are associated with insulin resistance. You can shell out big bucks to test your leptin levels with your doctor to see if your appetite hormones are off. Or, you can run a cheap and basic triglycerides panel. If they're high, you're insulin resistant. And you're in trouble.
Triglycerides are composed of a glycerol molecule bound to three fatty acids, and glycerol is a sugar alcohol. Your liver can make triglycerides if if needs to. Most of us don't need this though, as triglycerides are the compounds that store excess fat in the cells to be (theoretically) used for energy later. But most of us never need to access that stored energy. We eat ALL OF THE TIME. When you eat more calories than you need, the body stores them as triglycerides. High triglycerides means plenty of fat storage.
Triglycerides are a major component of very low density lipoprotein (VLDL) and serve as a source of energy. However, it is VLDL that is associated with heart disease (though few doctors would tell you this!) It would make sense that by lowering your triglycerides, you can lower your VLDL and thus lower your chances of getting heart disease.
The question we should actually be asking is,
Does high cholesterol actually cause heart disease?
How cool is that? The headline actually says, "Lack of an association or an inverse association between low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol and mortality in the elderly: a systematic review".
That means that high cholesterol isn't actually associated with heart disease. In fact, low cholesterol is actually associated with all-cause mortality.
What?! Yup, it's true. And this was a study involving 700 people, not 7.
In my Functional Diagnostic Nutrition practice, I am routinely teaching women that your hormones can only be made from cholesterol. Without enough cholesterol, your hormones will be shot.
Are you tired all of the time? You may be low in cortisol. What makes cortisol?
Are you missing your period? Or having super heavy flows? Are you experiencing cycle- associated insomnia? Are you getting PMS from the Pit? You're probably low in progesterone. What makes progesterone?
Are you never interested in sex? Are you losing muscle and gaining fat? Are you crying all of the time? You're probably low in testosterone. What makes testosterone?
Ok, you've got it. Do you want to be a sloppy, exhausted, hormonal mess? Then, by all means- please try to reduce your cholesterol. But if you want to be a bounding, happy, libidinous little bunny, you're going to want to eat that meat.
Meat gives you dietary cholesterol. You need all of it.
Does meat raise your cholesterol?
By now, you should be shrugging your shoulders and asking, "who cares?".
When you run a cholesterol blood panel, you get a single snapshot in time. Your cholesterol was x at x o'clock, and odds are, you took your bloodwork after fasting all night. Your liver will release cholesterol when are fasting because that's what it does. Did you know that only 20% of your body's cholesterol comes from foods you eat? The liver makes the rest. Your body needs about a gram (1000 mg) of cholesterol a day in order to make hormones, repair cell membranes, and make Vitamin D.
So an elevated cholesterol marker doesn't really mean much. Grab this excellent free e-book by Chris Kresser to read much more on the Diet Heart Myth.
Elevated cholesterol doesn't mean you are going to hav a heart attack. Remember, it's actually pretty cardioprotective to have higher cholesterol.
What definitely is a great indicator of probable cardiovascular events?
High sugar consumption + high seed oil consumption + high stress = heart problems
Reducing saturated fat by reducing meat consumption all by itself is more harmful than helpful. If you're eating a lot of red meat and also a lot of crappy processed foods and also experiencing a ton of stress, you may be in trouble. But I can guarantee you that the meat is not your problem.
There is no true benefit to reducing red meat, anyway. Additionally, heart disease is the number one killer of vegans, too. Boo.
So why are we told to eat less meat?
The financial ties between large pharmaceutical companies and the AHA are numerous and very remunerative for the AHA, including huge donations from Abbott, Bayer, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), Eli Lilly, Merck and Pfizer. BMS, along with Merck and Pfizer are national sponsors of AHA's Go Red For Women> heart disease awareness campaign. (source)
The AHA also rakes in millions from food companies which are also million dollar donors and which pay from $5,490 to $7,500 per product to gain the "heart-check mark" imprimatur from the AHA, renewable, at a price, every year.
PS- The American Heart Association's website leads with this sentence: "In general, red meats (beef, pork and lamb) have more saturated (bad) fat than chicken, fish and vegetable proteins such as beans. Saturated and trans fats can raise your blood cholesterol and make heart disease worse."
Is a cadre of heart doctors really telling us that saturated fat and trans fats are the same thing?
Trans fat makes disease.
Specifically, "cardiovascular diseases, breast cancer, shortening of pregnancy period, risks of preeclampsia, disorders of nervous system and vision in infants, colon cancer, diabetes, obesity and allergy".
But that is a tangent. An important tangent, I would put forth.
Is meat actually helpful for your heart?
There is little peer-reviewed (read: corporate funded) research that proves this very thing, however:
Meat contains zinc, B vitamins, and iron.
Zinc is necessary for heart muscle function.
B Vitamins reduce stroke and heart disease.
Iron is necessary to prevent iron-deficient anemia- and this can lead to under-oxygenated blood and therefore fatigue.
And then, there is the case of the relatively recent (human history-wise) study on the residents of Point Hope, Alaska. Fruits and veggies ain't growing on the tundra, right?
The residents of this town ate around 3000 calories a day, mostly in the form of fatty meat.
"Researchers found that the incidence of heart disease among Point Hope residents was ten times lower than in the general Caucasian population of the United States. Not only that—their triglyceride levels (levels of fat in the bloodstream) averaged 85 mg/dL, whereas the average U.S. triglyceride levels at that time averaged over 100 mg/dL.
The purpose of this blog post is to show you that red meat will not give you heart disease". (Dr. Georgia Ede).
Listen. People have been eating meat since we were created. Seriously. "Fatted calf", "sacrificial lamb"? These are normal foods. In the words of the brilliant Dr. Georgia Ede: "I will never understand how intelligent people can believe that an ancient food is causing a modern disease."
Next week, we will discuss the question,
Does Meat Cause Cancer?