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Need to Know

Can a Burger Be Good for Your Heart?

By: Karen Cicero

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Are you all relaxed ever since last week, when I told you that massage is medicine? Great! Well, I’ve got some more awesome news to share, especially if you’re a big fan of steaks and burgers.

Like most people, I treat myself to a juicy cheeseburger every now and then. Until recently, I thought of it as total indulgence -- a meal that completely flies in the face of what I know is good for me. Beef bumps up bad cholesterol, right? And bad cholesterol and heart disease are BFFs, no? Well, a new study from Pennsylvania State University has challenged me to rethink my assumptions.

Researchers put men and women with borderline high cholesterol on a couple of different diets. One of the diets included 4-5 ounces of lean beef per day in addition to fruits, veggies and whole grains. After five weeks, the participants’ bad cholesterol levels dropped by about 10 percent. Whoa. Read the study here.

I asked Joan Salge Blake, a registered dietitian and a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, if this means burgers can be on my menu more often. “You could have a medium-sized burger every week … if you make it with lean ground beef,” she says. “But … [I knew this was coming!] you still have to limit your diet’s overall saturated fat for the day, like the researchers did in the study.”

In other words, I can’t have butter on my whole-grain toast in the morning, chow down on a grilled-cheese sandwich for lunch and still have enough saturated fat allowance left for the burger. In fact, she emphasizes that the people in the study were eating loads of fruits and veggies, watching their sodium intake and preparing their food with healthy oils, like olive and canola. “They weren’t adding beef to a bad diet -- they were subbing it for chicken or fish in a healthy diet,” she says.

Got it: So a burger on a whole-grain bun with baked sweet potato wedges and green beans it is!

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Karen Cicero

is Completely You’s Need to Know blogger. A health journalist and magazine editor with more than 15 years of experience, she has contributed to such publications as Prevention, SELF and Health, and she has edited the dental column for Heart & Soul magazine.

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