Low fat diets may not be the ticket for lowering cholesterol after all.
One of my good friends had a heart attack last week. Talk about a shock. He’s a thin guy who is active and looks like the picture of health. So, when I found out he had blockage that required a stent, I was pretty surprised.
I mean I’ve always known his diet wasn’t perfect. He’s the guy I can count on to let me steal a French fry or two at lunch, as I choke down yet another salad. (Man, I’m going to miss that.) But here’s the weird part:
His bad cholesterol number is actually pretty good by most standards. Alas, though, he’s been instructed to get it down even more.
That’s why this post from Harvard Health Blog intrigued me.
Researchers conducted a head-to-head test between the American Heart Association’s traditional low-fat diet and a “dietary portfolio of cholesterol-lowering foods.” This portfolio included foods such as margarine enriched with plant sterols; oats, barley, psyllium, okra, and eggplant, all rich in soluble fiber; soy protein; and whole almonds.
The portfolio approach was the clear winner:
- After 24 weeks, it lowered harmful LDL cholesterol by 13 percent, while the low-fat diet lowered LDL by only 3 percent.
- The portfolio approach also lowered triglycerides and blood pressure, and did not depress the level of beneficial HDL cholesterol.
It’s important to note that all participants in the study followed a heart-healthy diet that was low in saturated fat (minimal butter and other dairy fats, beef fat) and rich in fruits and vegetables, beans and whole grains. Those in the portfolio group added cholesterol-lowering foods.
Here are some specific suggestions from Harvard’s Dr. Howard LeWine for adding these foods to a heart-healthy diet:
Plant sterols. The best sources of these are margarines enriched with plant sterols and stanols, such as Benecol and Take Control, and other foods to which they have been added, including orange juice, granola bars, and cooking oil. You don’t need more than 2 grams a day.
Soluble fiber. Two servings per day should be sufficient. Good sources of soluble fiber include oats and oat bran, barley, almost any kind of bean, eggplant, and okra. Aim for 10 grams of soluble fiber per day.
Nuts. For a great midday snack, eat a handful of nuts. Any kind will do—almonds, walnuts, pecans, peanuts. Keep in mind that nuts pack a lot of calories. (Note: Some experts say one should keep the serving size of nuts to about 1 oz. per sitting. That’s about 47 shelled pistachios, 30 peanuts, 24 almonds, 20 pecan halves or hazelnuts, and 14 walnut halves.
Soy products. Not long ago, the only ways to get soy protein was by eating soybeans or tofu (also called bean curd). Today you can buy soy milk, soy bars, soy burgers, dried soy protein, and more. Soy protein and fish are two of the healthiest ways to get your daily protein. Twenty-five grams of soy protein a day is a good target.
These sound like good suggestions.