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How the Meat Industry Designed a Highly Misleading Study

Imagine working for the now defunct Twinkie division of Hostess and wanting to take the tobacco industry tact of not just downplaying the risk of your product, but actually promoting it as healthy. How do we do that?

Our first problem is that each Twinkie has 2.5 grams of saturated fat, which raises cholesterol, the #1 risk factor of our #1 killer, heart disease. How are we going to get around that?

Well, what if we designed a study in which we took a bunch of people eating our arch-rival, Little Debbie cloud cakes. Now they only have 1 gram each, so what if we took a group eating 5 cloud cakes a day — 5 grams of saturated fat — and then cut that saturated fat intake in half by switching them to eating 1 Twinkie a day. What would happen to their cholesterol levels? Their cholesterol would go down due to their decreased saturated fat consumption. So even though they went from eating 5 cakes down to 1, technically, they went from zero Twinkies a day to one Twinkie a day, and their cholesterol went down (we wouldn’t mention the 5 to 1 thing).

We publish it and crank out a press release, “New research shows that eating a Twinkie a day can be good for heart health by improving cholesterol levels.” The media takes our press release and runs with it: “Consumers can eat a Twinkie every day if they choose, and feel confident that science supports Twinkies’ healthy benefits, which now include cholesterol-lowering effects!” Twinkies, we just proved with science, have cholesterol-lowering effects. Too outlandish a scenario? Amazingly, that’s exactly what the beef industry did (those above quotes are actual quotes–just replace the word beef for Twinkie).

In a study bought and paid for by the beef industry, beef was added to people’s diets. At the same time, the subjects removed so much poultry, pork, fish, and cheese from their diet that they halved their saturated fat intake from 12 percent of their diet, down to 6 percent of their diet, causing their cholesterol levels to go down. If our diet goes from 12 percent saturated fat down to 6 percent saturated fat, it doesn’t matter if that 6 percent comes from beef, chicken, lard, or Twinkies. If we cut our total saturated fat in half, our cholesterol will follow, especially if we eat more fiber and vegetable protein as they did in the study.

The researchers conclude: “The results of the BOLD study [standing for Beef in an Optimal Lean Diet] provide convincing evidence that lean beef can be included in a heart-healthy diet that meets current dietary recommendations and reduces cardiovascular disease risk.” Crisco could be included. Krispy Crème could be included, as long as we cut our total saturated fat intake. What the researchers fail to mention is that our risk would drop even lower if we dropped the beef, as was pointed out by the chair of nutrition at Harvard in a response to the study.

The subjects in this study went from a high risk of dying from heart disease to… a high risk of dying from heart disease. We need to get our LDL (bad) cholesterol down to 50, 60 or 70 to become essentially heart attack proof (see Eliminating the #1 Cause of Death). For most people, that means eliminating saturated animal fat and cholesterol intake completely.

This study is really just showing how bad saturated fat is from any animal source. Yes, based on saturated fat levels, lean beef is often better than chicken (and Twinkies), but that’s like touting the health benefits of Coca Cola because it has less sugar than Pepsi. It does—15 spoonfuls of sugar per bottle instead of 16—but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t be better not consuming soda at all. Reminds me of this study: “Cheese Intake Lowers LDL-cholesterol…Compared With Butter Intake.”

If you click on the above video, you can see the beef industry’s release. So, that’s how they ended up with the “cholesterol-lowering effects of beef” – if we cut out enough poultry, pork, fish, and cheese from our diet, we could replace this with almost anything (bacon grease, candy, frosting, deep-fried snickers bars, sewer sludge, etc.), and still reduce cholesterol levels.

How are Americans exposed to saturated fat? Burgers actually fall well below chicken. See Trans Fat, Saturated Fat, and Cholesterol: Tolerable Upper Intake of Zero.

The beef industry is by no means alone in having a corrupting influence on the scientific method. See, for example:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image Credit: Wikimedia/Alpha


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Dr. Michael Greger

A founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. Currently Dr. Greger serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States. Hundreds of his nutrition videos are freely available at


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1:26AM PST on Jan 19, 2015

thanks for sharing :)

4:23PM PDT on Jun 20, 2014

Dr. Greger has his own business interests, as he's made veganism his schtick for which he cherry picks bits and pieces from studies to support his lucrative agenda.

5:59PM PDT on Jun 6, 2014

I just noticed that this is another rerun article...I guess it didn't make it the first time around.

5:58PM PDT on Jun 6, 2014

This article is how Greger writes a misleading article. He is a biased puppet of PETA...can't be trusted to be honest.

10:55AM PST on Mar 1, 2014


2:52AM PST on Feb 28, 2014

Food.... for thought!!

11:10AM PST on Feb 26, 2014

Laughing, laughing, laughing, over it I am still thrilled to be vegan and shouting out to the world around me. No one needs to do this to themselves while being lied to and prodded into poisoning themselves.

10:48PM PST on Feb 25, 2014


10:13AM PST on Feb 24, 2014

Knew who wrotethis , by the title, before I checked. :)

8:45PM PST on Feb 23, 2014


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