Are you tired of being nagged by your GP to lose weight and cut out fat and alcohol to help get your cholesterol under control? Do you have trouble tolerating medication or prefer to steer clear if possible? Then read on to learn a natural and effective way to keep your cholesterol down (and impress your doc!).
The benefits of eating more plant foods (including fruits, vegetables and nuts) has long been clear, but did you know that eating particular plant foods daily can powerfully target cholesterol?
Research by Glycaemic Index founder Dr David Jenkins shows that eating a portfolio of certain cholesterol-lowering foods can reduce elevated cholesterol levels and may be as effective as the starting dose of a first-generation statin drug.
Studies in which people were supplied a portfolio diet have shown reductions in participants’ bad cholesterol (LDL) by as much as 30%! Under real living conditions, where people were given dietetic advice but prepared their own meals, the reduction was 13% after one year on the diet—still more than what is possible from a simple low-saturated-fat diet.
Significantly, those who complied well with the portfolio eating plan sustained cholesterol reductions of 20%, even after 12 months. The bottom line: stick to the recommended diet if you want it to work like medicine.
The portfolio diet at a glance
To get the benefits of the portfolio diet you’ll need to incorporate the following four foods each day at the specified levels:
Soy protein: 25 grams, which can come from a range of soy foods, such as tofu, soy milk, soy burgers and soybeans.
Plant sterols: 2-3 grams from a supplement or plant sterol-enriched dairy food, margarine or other fortified product.
Nuts: 30 grams from any unsalted raw nuts, such as almonds or walnuts, and nut pastes, like natural peanut butter without added fat, sugar or salt.
Soluble fibre: 5-10 grams, obtained by incorporating a range of foods rich in soluble fibre, such as legumes, traditional oats, barley, eggplant, okra and psyllium husks.
If you’re thinking, ‘Wow, I could never eat like that!’ or ‘How much soy do I have to eat?’ then you’re probably not alone. These aren’t foods that are traditionally consumed in the typical Aussie diet, but then again it’s that kind of eating pattern that led to high cholesterol levels in the first place. The choice is yours.
Never fear! The research shows that simply including these foods in your diet will benefit your cholesterol, even if you don’t hit the recommended targets. In fact, if you’re 50% compliant with the portfolio foods you could see reductions of up to 9.9% and if you are 75% compliant you could see a lowering of 21%.
Aim big for big results!
What if I’m already on statins?
If you’re already taking a statin, such as Crestor or Lipitor, this diet is still effective. The studies by Dr Jenkins and his associates looked at the influence of these foods on participants already taking medication and found it helped the statins work more efficiently.
Another guiding light is our good old friend extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). When good quality EVOO is consumed in combination with the portfolio foods, it reduces the risk of heart disease. High in polyphenols and antioxidants, its effect is not only a reduction in LDL-cholesterol but also in blood pressure and inflammatory markers.
So, if you want to start taking control of your cholesterol, you need to eat more plant foods and focus specifically on the four portfolio foods. Dietitians can devise a strategy to get you as close to the recommended doses as possible to optimise your cholesterol management and ward of heart disease.
Sue Radd is an Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian and one of Australia’s leading nutritionists and health communicators. Her most recent book Food as Medicine: Eating for Your Best Health received the Gourmand World Cookbook Award for Best Health and Nutrition Book in the world for 2016.
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