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Veggies Add Vim to Low-Fat Diet

Adding Plant Foods to Low-Fat Diet Doubles Cholesterol-Lowering Effect
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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 whole grains.

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 cholesterol-lowering power.

"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.

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Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. But your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as statins. Following medication, dietary, and exercise instructions should result in improvements.

Your total cholesterol level is High, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe statins or other cholesterol-lowering medications.

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