High-Protein Diet Goes Vegetarian

Vegetarian Diet Study: Low-Carbohydrate, High-Protein Diet May Be Better for Heart

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on June 08, 2009
From the WebMD Archives

June 8, 2009 -- Among vegetarian diets, a high-protein, low-carbohydrate plan may improve cholesterol levels more than a high-carbohydrate diet.

That news comes from a new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The study included 47 overweight men and women with high total and LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels. For a month, they ate only food that was packaged for them in accordance with the study.

Half of the participants got meals that were high in plant-based protein (soy, gluten, and nuts) and low in carbohydrates. Oats and barley, which are high in fiber, were allowed in limited amounts, but common starchy foods -- like bread, baked goods, and rice -- weren't included.

For comparison, the other half of the group got a high carbohydrate, low-fat, lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, meaning it included low-fat or skim dairy products and egg whites or egg substitutes.

At the end of the month, both groups had the same average weight loss -- about 9 pounds.

People in both groups improved their cholesterol and triglycerides levels, as well as their blood pressure. But the high-protein group had a greater improvement in those areas.

However, it's not clear whether the protein made the difference. Fiber could also have been important, note the researchers, who included David Jenkins, MD, of Canada's University of Toronto and St. Michael's Hospital.

Jenkins has previously published research on low-glycemic index foods for people with diabetes and the cholesterol-lowering "portfolio" diet.

Larger, longer studies are needed to see which diet works best in the long run, especially when people have to prepare their own foods, notes an editorial published with the study.

Jenkins' study was partly funded by soy foods maker Solae and Canadian food distributor Loblaw Companies. In the journal, Jenkins discloses his ties to Solae, Unilever, the California Strawberry Commission, the Almond Board of California, and other companies.

The editorialists, who included Katherine Tuttle, MD, of the Providence Medical Research Center at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Spokes, Wash., note no financial disclosures.