MIAMI, FLA. People with high cholesterol may lower their levels by a surprising one-third with a vegetarian diet that combines a variety of trendy heart-healthy foods, including plenty of soy and soluble fiber, a study found.
Although a healthy diet is a mainstay of cholesterol control, people typically can reduce their cholesterol only about 10 percent by changing what they eat. As a result, doctors routinely prescribe cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins.
However, studies suggest certain plant foods are especially good at lowering cholesterol. So a Canadian team put together a diet combining several of these to see what would happen.
"The reductions are surprising," said Cyril Kendall of the University of Toronto. "Most dietitians would not expect that sort of reduction through dietary means."
Whether most people would stick with such a diet is another matter, since it involves daily okra, eggplant and Metamucil, among other things.
Still, Kendall said his preliminary results suggested the diet worked about as well as the older statin drugs that are still first-line therapy for people with high cholesterol.
Kendall presented the results of his approach, called the Portfolio diet, at a meeting in Miami Beach on Thursday of the American Heart Assn. The research was sponsored by the Canadian government, the Almond Board of California and the food companies Unilever Canada and Loblaw Brands.
"This was a pretty impressive result," said Dr. Stephen Daniels of Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati. "However, the results need to be replicated. Can this be done in the real world or only in an experiment?"
The diet is based on a low-fat vegetarian regimen that emphasizes foods shown individually to be beneficial -- soy, soluble fiber, plant sterols and almonds. Sources of soluble fiber include oats, barley, legumes, eggplant, okra and Metamucil. Some brands of margarine are high in plant sterols.