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Diet for Lowering Cholesterol: Soy Beats Low-Fat

"Portfolio Diet" of Cholesterol-Lowering Foods More Effective Than Regular Low-Fat Diet
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 23, 2011 -- A diet that incorporates cholesterol-lowering foods like soy, nuts, and plant sterols may work better at lowering cholesterol levels than a traditional low-fat diet.

A new study shows that people with high cholesterol who followed the portfolio diet, which includes a combination of cholesterol-lowering foods, lowered their low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels by about 13% after six months on the diet. That's compared with a 3% LDL reduction among those who followed a traditional diet low in saturated fat.

"Given that cardiovascular disease is our major killer, we feel that a lot of people will benefit to a greater or lesser extent by adopting this diet, which is basically a plant-based approach," says researcher David Jenkins, MD, Canada Research Chair at the University of Toronto. "Those who may want to follow the diet more specifically are those who are on the cusp for statin treatment."

"If we let people know that they can control their own cholesterol levels themselves, we're putting some of the responsibility but also the power back into the hands of ordinary citizens," Jenkins tells WebMD.

Portfolio Diet Lowers Cholesterol

The portfolio diet includes four types of foods recognized by the FDA for their ability to lower cholesterol:

  • Soy protein. The portfolio diet calls for substituting soy-based meat products for meat, such as soy burgers, soy hot dogs, and soy cold cuts. Soy milk and soybeans (also known as edamame) are also good sources of soy protein.
  • Sticky fiber. The diet incorporates fiber from oats, barley, and psyllium.
  • Plant sterol esters. The diet replaces butter and margarine with plant sterol ester-enriched margarine. 
  • Nuts. A handful a day of tree nuts, such as almonds or walnuts, and peanuts are included in the diet.

In the study, researchers compared the effectiveness of the portfolio diet to a traditional low-fat diet in lowering LDL cholesterol in 351 people with high cholesterol. The results appear in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The people were randomly divided into three groups that received counseling about the portfolio diet in two sessions or a more intensive seven sessions over a six-month period or followed a standard low-fat diet for six months.

The study showed that the regular and intensively counseled portfolio diet group both experienced a reduction in LDL cholesterol of about 13% compared with a 3% reduction in the low-fat diet group.

Jenkins says the study suggests that the mix of plant-based foods included in the portfolio diet can achieve cholesterol-lowering results similar to what can be achieved through drugs.

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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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