Living with high cholesterol isn’t easy. There are thousands of articles telling you what you can and can’t have, which turns out is everything worth eating: butter, fat, red meat, cured meats, ice cream, cheese, eggs, freedom fries, and the list goes on. Except the “list” is outdated. Especially when it comes to red meat. More specifically, grass fed beef. That’s right. Grass fed beef isn’t just safe for people with high cholesterol; it can actually be good for them.
Fat bottom roast you make my rocking world go ‘round.
Instigators of high cholesterol are saturated fat, trans fat, and (surprise surprise) cholesterol. Red meat was thought to be a bad idea due to its high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol. While this is true in some cases, let’s breakdown the health factors of conventionally raised, grain fed beef vs. pasture-raised, grass fed/finished beef (We’ve compared a traditionally raised beef ribeye to a Western Grassfed Beef Ribeye (WGB), and broken down the numbers to reflect nutrition information per ounce).
As you can see, the grass fed and grass finished beef from WGB outperforms the conventionally raised, grain fed beef in areas of great interest to people battling high cholesterol.
A deeper dive into cholesterol, plaque, tow trucks and golf carts. Yes, you read that correctly!
The Mayo Clinic provides a breakdown of cholesterol and how it works. There are two types of cholesterol carriers: High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) and Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL). For the sake of ease, let’s compare HDL to a tow truck, and LDL to a golf cart. Cholesterol (which comes from your liver) hitches a ride with your LDL and HDL’s to your body’s cells. This is okay. Cholesterol in proportionate amounts is used by your cells as energy. The LDL golf cart picks up cholesterol and cruises around your blood stream looking for cells in need. The golf cart continues this chauffeuring circulation until it runs out of power. Exhausted, and weighed down with cholesterol, the golf cart illegally parks right on your artery/blood vessel walls.
The Parking Lot Artery Party
This is how plaque occurs. There is too much cholesterol for your body to use, so it sticks to blood vessel walls. Before you know it other golf carts drive by saying “It says NO PARKING…buuuut everyone else is doing it. Pull over!”, effectively turning your artery wall into a parking lot for useless fat. Now you are subject to complications of a clogged artery/blood vessel: blood clot, stroke, heart attack, you get the picture.
So you’ve got plaque having a parking lot party, and several HDL tow trucks show up like the heroes they are. Each HDL tow truck hooks up a golf cart, complete with cholesterol, and drags it back to the liver where the disorderly party is broken down and discarded. The plaque (i.e. illegal parking lot) is slowly diminished. (Note: this only works if there are more HDL than LDL.)
Red meat can influence your LDL count by way of the saturated fat and cholesterol you eat. As you can see from the diagram in paragraph two, grass fed and finished beef contains significantly less than conventionally raised beef. It’s the better beef option if you’re trying to lower your cholesterol. That being said, saturated fat and cholesterol aren’t the entire problem. Those LDL golf carts we were talking about? They come in two models, and each model requires different fuel. Confused? Keep reading.
LDL Golf Cart Types: A diesel dually and a battery operated option.
You can lower your intake of red meat altogether in hopes of triggering a chain reaction: lower red meat intake à lower saturated fat intake à lower cholesterol levels à be healthy. Grass fed, grass finished red meat has lower levels of the common offenders anyway, so decreasing your intake wouldn’t make a massive impact on your cholesterol unless you’re eating grain fed beef to begin with. With that being said, things are far more complicated than red meat = bad cholesterol. Heads up all you steak-loving, plaque acquiring individuals: There are two types of LDL golf carts, and saturated fat only affects one of them.
Type A LDL is like the diesel dually of LDL. Its particles are large and buoyant. It floats around like a diesel with an inexperienced driver. By lowering your saturated fat intake, you can lower your diesel dually golf cart count. However, the diesel isn’t the biggest threat to your health despite its size.
That’s right. Type B LDL, the battery operated option, is smaller and denser than the diesel. It is the particular type of LDL most closely related to heart disease. It also isn’t regulated by saturated fat. You can completely cut out saturated fat from your diet, and the battery operated golf cart count won’t diminish. Your Type B LDL is regulated by carbohydrate intake. Your risk of cholesterol-induced heart disease is more closely related to that muffin you had at breakfast than that grass fed ribeye you could have had last night (or this morning…no judgement here!).
If you already have plaque build-up due to high cholesterol, you can still have steak… but it needs to be grass fed, grass finished.
Know what else is great about grass fed and finished beef for your cholesterol woes? It is a balanced source for Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. Balance is key when it comes to Omegas. Omega 3 is the miracle worker, but if you aren't taking in a healthy ratio of 3 and 6, the Omega 6 will impede your body’s absorption of Omega 3. Meaning you won’t get the miracle worker, only its sibling.
The extent of Omega 3’s effectiveness on the risk factors of potentially fatal cholesterol complications is tangible: According to Nutrition Express, Dr. Phillip Calder PhD conducted a double blind study about the effects of Omega 3 on patients undergoing surgery to remove arterial plaque. The article states, “After surgery, doctors found that there were far fewer inflammatory cells in the plaque of those who had taken omega-3, significantly reducing the risk for arterial rupture, heart attack, and stroke.” What a perfect experiment. Doctors who have to operate on a patient because the plaque build-up on their arterial walls is enough to put their life in danger give their patients Omega 3. When it’s time to evaluate the results, they can literally see the difference in build-up.
Long story short…
High cholesterol isn’t entirely dependent on your intake of saturated fat and cholesterol in foods. That being said, both are still a factor. When compared to conventional beef, grass fed and grass finished beef has significantly lower amounts of the very fats aiding in raised cholesterol. Additionally, eating grass fed and finished beef means eating the correct ratio of Omega 3 and 6 to ensure max absorption of Omega 3. In turn, the Omega 3s work overtime to clean up that pesky plaque clogging your arteries.
Eat the ribeye steak, and make sure it’s grass fed and finished so you can have it with a side of clean conscience.