Veggies Add Vim to Low-Fat Diet
Adding Plant Foods to Low-Fat Diet Doubles Cholesterol-Lowering Effect
May 2, 2005 -- You can lower your cholesterol with a low-fat diet. But you
get twice the bang for your buck if you eat lots of vegetables, fruits, and
For years, Americans were told to avoid fats. But it's not enough to avoid
unhealthy foods. New dietary guidelines stress the value of eating plenty of
healthy foods: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans.
How much better is the new advice? At least twice as good, find Stanford
researcher Christopher Gardner, PhD, and colleagues. Gardner's team finds that
people who eat a low-fat diet lower their cholesterol. But those who eat just
as few fats and eat lots of plant-based foods double the diet's
"The effect of diet on lowering cholesterol has been really minimized
and undermined by a lot of clinicians and researchers saying, 'Yes, it has an
effect but it is really trivial. It would be better to put you on drugs to
control your cholesterol,'" Gardner says in a news release. "We weren't
really giving diet a fair shake. We were so focused on the negative -- just
what to avoid -- and not what to include."
The plant-food-enhanced diet isn't strictly vegetarian. It's simply rich in
foods known to lower cholesterol. These include soy-based foods, garlic,
soluble fiber (provided by food like oats, barley, psyllium and beans), whole
grains, and nuts.
So what's more important -- simply avoiding fat or eating lots of good
foods? Gardner's team asked 120 people to help answer this question. These 30-
to 65-year-olds had moderately high LDL "bad" cholesterol, ranging from
130 to 190 mg/dL. None was obese, and all were in generally good health.
For four weeks, half the volunteers adopted the old-fashioned low-fat diet
and half stuck to a low-fat, plant-based diet. To minimize cheating, the
researchers fed them dinner every weekday and gave them a cooler filled with
foods for the rest of the time.
The diets were fat and calorie balanced so that nobody gained or lost
weight. Some of the study participants were, indeed, overweight. Losing weight
is a good way to cut your cholesterol. But the study was designed to look at
the effects of diet and not weight loss.
Exactly what did they eat? Here's a sample menu for each group:
Breakfast: frozen waffles, butter, syrup, apple juice, coffee, and low-fat
- Morning snack: apple-grape juice and nonfat raspberry yogurt
- Lunch: turkey-bologna sandwich, light potato chips, caffeine-free Diet
- Afternoon snack: lemon cake pudding and low-fat milk
- Dinner: garden lasagna, iceberg lettuce salad, French dinner roll,
Low-fat "plus" diet:
- Breakfast: whole-wheat bread, sunflower-seed butter, smoothie, plain
yogurt, tea, grapes
- Morning snack: soy nuts, sun-dried raisins
- Lunch: tempeh burger with vegetables and cheddar cheese on whole-wheat
- Afternoon snack: black licorice
- Dinner: parsley pesto and soba noodles, garlic butter, spinach and mandarin
salad with sesame, egg, Odwalla Superfood juice, and tea