A new study suggests that eating beef may not be as bad for the heart as experts had once assumed because one of its major forms of saturated fat lowers cholesterol.

Despite their findings, however, the study's authors recommended that people stick to widely accepted dietary guidelines and keep their fat intake as low as possible.The study, conducted by Drs. Scott M. Grundy and Andrea Bonanome, found that stearic acid, one of the main components of saturated fat in the diet, appears to lower the body's cholesterol levels.

Until now, many experts assumed that all saturated fats, including those containing stearic acid, were bad because they promote clogging deposits of cholesterol.

Grundy said that if people eat moderate portions of lean beef, "it should not be feared as a cholesterol-raising food."

The research was conducted at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

In an accompanying editorial, Drs. Irwin H. Rosenberg and Ernst J. Schaefer of the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston praised the work. They said it "demonstrates convincingly" that a diet high in stearic acid does not raise blood cholesterol.

But they were cautious in interpreting the findings, concluding, "This study should not change our chief dietary message to the American people."