The Good News About Dark Meat
Just in time for barbecue season, a new study has found that having high cholesterol may not mean you have to pass up those luscious drumsticks that come off the grill all sizzling and juicy and irresistible (not to mention higher in artery-clogging saturated fat than white meat).
Researchers from the NYU Langone Medical Center discovered that women whose cholesterol numbers were bad but who had high levels of taurine -- an amino acid that's abundant in dark-meat poultry, shellfish and mollusks -- were actually less likely to develop, or die from, heart disease than women who had less taurine in their blood and their diets.
Oddly enough, women who had normal or low cholesterol along with high taurine levels didn't get the same protection, say the researchers, who looked at both the blood levels and diet of the more than 14,000 women in the NYU Women's Health Study.
They linked the taurine in the women's diets to poultry rather than shrimp and scallops because so few of the women reported eating seafood regularly. On the other hand, they ate, on average, about 5.6 ounces of poultry a week -- about the size of a chicken drumstick. Read a synopsis of the study here.
What's so heart-healthy about taurine?
For one thing, the amino acid has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, says Dr. Yu Chen, associate professor of epidemiology at NYU Langone Medical Center and lead author of the study. "It may be that women with high cholesterol levels are more susceptible to risk of coronary heart disease due to oxidative stress and inflammation," she says. But taurine helps counteract these factors.
In animal studies, taurine supplementation helps protect LDL, or "bad" cholesterol, from becoming oxidized, which makes it more likely to damage the arteries. It also directly suppresses the formation of arterial plaques -- lumps of fat and debris that cling to arteries, blocking them and, in some cases, forming clots that can travel to the heart or brain.
But that doesn't mean taurine supplements are the way to go.
"We don't know whether taurine from supplements would have the same effect" as diet does, says Chen.
She did, however, suggest that there might come a day when doctors start recommending that people with high cholesterol eat more poultry -- especially dark meat.
That puts a whole new positive spin on the phrase, "going over to the dark side."
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