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Cholesterol-Lowering Diet Packs Punch

Diet Rich in Cholesterol-Lowering Foods Lowers Cholesterol Level by 20%

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 10, 2006 -- Eating a mostly plant-based diet rich in several cholesterol-lowering foods may lower cholesterol levels nearly as effectively as taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs.

A new study showed people who ate a diet rich in cholesterol-lowering foods, such as soy protein, almonds, plant sterol-enriched margarines, and natural fiber (from items such as oats, psyllium, okra, and eggplant) for a year lowered their cholesterol levels by 20% or more, a reduction comparable with that found with statins.

Researchers say the results suggest that cholesterol-lowering foods are most effective when combined rather than eaten individually to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.

"The benefit of statins to individuals at high risk for cardiovascular disease is not in question here," says researcher David Jenkins, professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto, in a news release. "Emphasizing diet changes in general can boost the success rate of statins while providing additional health benefits and a possible alternative for those for whom drugs are not a viable option."

Portfolio Diet Lowers Cholesterol

In the study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers compared the cholesterol-lowering effects of one month of statin use vs. one year of following a diet rich in a portfolio of cholesterol-lowering foods under real-world conditions.

For one year, 55 adults with high cholesterol followed a mostly plant-based diet including soy protein, plant sterol-enriched margarine, increased fiber, and almonds. The people were also asked to eat five to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day and eat more plant protein (such as beans).

"The participants found it easiest to incorporate single items such as the almonds and margarine into their daily lives," says Jenkins. "The fiber and vegetable protein were more challenging since they require more planning and preparation, and because these types of niche products are less available. It's just easier, for example, to buy a beef burger instead of one made from soy, although the range of options is improving. We considered it ideal if the participants were able to follow the diet three-quarters of the time."

The results showed that the participants who followed the diet for one year had lowered their cholesterol levels by 20%. Researchers say that cholesterol reduction is comparable with the reduction achieved by 29 of the participants who took a statin for one month before following the diet in a separate study.

"The study's findings suggest that the average person can do a lot to improve their health through diet," says Jenkins. "People interested in lowering their cholesterol should probably acquire a taste for tofu and oatmeal, keeping in mind that portable alternatives fit best with a modern lifestyle. Save the experimenting for the evening, when you have more time to prepare more complicated meals."

"Taking a pill may give people the false impression that they have nothing further to do to protect their health and prevent them from making serious lifestyle changes," says Jenkins.

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Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL because the HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately 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 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, 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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