Eating Dark Meat May Be Heart Healthy, Even with High Cholesterol

Heart Healthy Diet
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Anyone who has ever been put on a cardiac diet by their physician can tell you that one of the first things off the list is dark meat poultry. But if the legs and thighs are your favorite, new research finds you might not have to give it up after all. A nutrient found in dark meat may actually provide some protection against coronary heart disease in women with high cholesterol.

Coronary heart disease is the leading killer of American men and women, causing one in five deaths. Dietary factors play a significant role in its development. Fatty material and other substances accumulate on the inside walls of the coronary arteries, causing them to narrow. As a result, blood flow to the heart can slow down or stop. Because excess cholesterol in the blood contribute to arterial plaques, the mainstay of a heart-healthy diet is to reduce the nutrient in addition to lowering total fat and saturated fat.

When looking at fat and cholesterol sources, most dietitians will recommend that, instead of eating the dark meat of chicken and turkey – these parts of the bird are higher in fat – one should choose skinless breast meat instead. Shellfish is another food group often eliminated because these sea foods are high in cholesterol.

However, researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center have discovered that a naturally-occurring amino acid in dark-meat poultry, fish and shellfish was associated with significantly lower CHD risk among women with high total cholesterol levels. The nutrient, taurine, which is essential for cardiovascular function, has also been shown to be effective in removing fatty liver deposits in rats. It may also be beneficial for lowering high blood pressure.

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Yu Chen PhD MPH, an associate professor of epidemiology at NYU School of Medicine, and colleagues conducted a study using data and samples from the NYU Women’s Health Study, originally enrolling more than 14,000 women between the ages of 34 and 65. Blood samples were used to measure taurine levels for 223 of the women who had CHD during the study. These were compared with serum samples from 223 participants with no history of cardiovascular disease.

Overall, just having higher levels of taurine was not found to be protective, however, the women in the study with high cholesterol were found to be 60% less likely to develop or die from CHD if they had higher levels of the nutrient in their blood.

“Taurine, at least in its natural form, does seem to have a significant protective effect in women with high cholesterol,” said Dr. Chen. If future studies are able to replicate the findings, eating more dark meat poultry and shellfish may one day be considered for the diets of women with high cholesterol at risk for CHD.

Of course, that doesn’t give everyone the green light to eat fried chicken and fried fish. A recent Emory University study, in fact, found that fried fish lose its beneficial nutrients and contribute to stroke risk. So, therefore, it is still best to remove the skin from poultry, where the majority of the fat lies, and to bake or broil both meats with very little oil or fat.

Source Reference:
Oktawia P. Wójcik, Karen L. Koenig, Anne Zeleniuch-Jacquotte, Camille Pearte, Max Costa and Yu Chen. Serum taurine and risk of coronary heart disease: a prospective, nested case–control study. EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF NUTRITION

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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