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Meat eating societies, such as the United States, tend to have higher levels of cholesterol in their blood, and higher rates of coronary heart disease, than societies where people depend more heavily on plant foods.

American vegetarians have been shown to have lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure than their meat- eating counterparts. And Italian researchers have shown that substituting soy protein for animal protein in the diets of people with high cholesterol levels can lower these levels even more than is possible with a prudent low-fat, low cholesterol diet.

But until recently the direct health effects of eating meat had not been studied. Now a team of medical researchers from Boston has shown that the addition of meat to the diet of vegetarians who rarely consumed other animal foods produced a rapid and significant increase in blood cholesterol levels. A similar, but also significant, increase in blood pressure was seen also when meat was included in the vegetarian diet. .

The meat used in the experiment, which is described in the August 7th issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, was about nine ounces of lean beef. It added saturated fats and about 170 milligrams of cholesterol to the vegetarian diet, which contained only 30 milligrams of cholesterol on average. To keep caloric intake the same, the vegetarians ate less of their usual low-fat, cholesterol-free grains, beans,and rice while consuming meat.

In four weeks on the meat regimen, the cholesterol level increased 19% and blood pressure rose 3%. While such other factors as distress over eating meat could account in part for these effects, the researchers, headed by Dr. Frank M. Sachs of Harvard Medical School’s Channing Laboratory, concluded that “the study suggests an adverse effect of consumption of beef” on cholesterol and blood pressure.