Eat to Beat High Cholesterol

Healthnotes Newswire (May 18, 2006)—New research shows that combining several cholesterol-lowering foods can decrease LDL (“bad”) cholesterol for at least a year. The study, recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, built on existing research that examined the beneficial effects of adding just one of these foods to the diet.

Study participants followed a low-fat diet called the Portfolio Diet, combined with four “pillars”: margarine enriched with plant sterols, “viscous” fibers (from oats, barley, psyllium, okra, and eggplant), soy protein (from soy milk and soy foods), and whole almonds. They were also instructed to eat more plant protein and fiber (in the form of dried legumes) and to eat the recommended 5 to 10 daily servings of fruits and vegetables.

“The diet is based on current American Heart Association and National Cholesterol Education Program Panel III dietary guidelines,” said Dr. Cyril WC Kendall, a research scientist in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto, and spokesperson for the study. “One or both of these organizations have recommended the four pillars of the Portfolio Diet. Each of these pillars has been shown to independently lower cholesterol, depending on how much is consumed.”

In highly motivated people (about one-third of the study participants) LDL cholesterol was reduced by 20% or more, making the diet as effective as many of the cholesterol-lowering “statin” drugs. Lowering cholesterol by this much may decrease the risk of dying from coronary artery disease by 25 to 35%.

Three previous studies by the same group of researchers have laid the groundwork for the current findings, and the four studies are now being promoted by the almond industry under the name Portfolio Eating Plan. In two of the studies, published in 2002 and 2003, the diet was found to be as effective as the starting dose of statins, older first-line drugs, in managing cholesterol. In related research, presented at an American Heart Association meeting, a diet including almonds and other heart-healthy foods providing soy protein and fibers rapidly and significantly reduced total and LDL cholesterol in people with high cholesterol.

“As a greater variety of foods containing soy, viscous fiber, plant sterols, and almonds become available, such diets will become easier to follow,” said Dr. Kendall. “They will then provide an option for those who wish to use diet rather than medications as the primary prevention of [high] cholesterol.”

(Am J Clin Nutr 2006;83:582–91)

Jeremy Appleton, ND, CNS, is a licensed naturopathic physician, certified nutrition specialist, and published author. Dr. Appleton was the Nutrition Department Chair at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, has served on the faculty at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, and is a former Healthnotes Senior Science Editor and a founding contributor to Healthnotes Newswire. He has worked extensively in scientific and regulatory affairs in the supplement industry and is now a consultant through his company Praxis Natural Products Consulting and Wellness Services.

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