June 16, 2003
Eating a vegetarian diet that combines soy products and soluble fiber appears to lower cholesterol levels by one-third among people with high cholesterol, according to a report presented at a meeting of the American Heart Association in Miami Beach, Fla.
Controlling diet can usually only reduce high cholesterol levels by approximately 10 percent, the researchers said. However, previous research has indicated that certain plant foods may control cholesterol to a greater extent.
To assess these foods ability to lower cholesterol, researchers from Canada developed a diet called the Portfolio Diet. This diet consists of a low-fat vegetarian regimen emphasizing foods such as almonds, soy, soluble fiber and plant sterols. Soluble fibers include oats, barley, legumes, eggplant, okra and Metamucil. Plant sterols can be found in some margarines.
In the study, 25 volunteers followed a conventional low-fat diet or the Portfolio diet.
After one month, researcher Cyril Kendall and team checked the effects of the diet on low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein. LDL cholesterol increases the risk of heart disease, while HDL cholesterol reduces the risk of heart disease.
A reduction in LDL levels of 12 percent was observed among subjects eating a conventional low-fat diet compared with a reduction of 35 percent in those who followed the Portfolio Diet.
The reductions are surprising, said Kendall. Most dietitians would not expect that sort of a reduction through dietary means.
Kendall also stated that several of the participants continued following the diet even after the study ended.