Smart Dietary Changes Lower Cholesterol

JULY 01, 2005

Although physicians have touted the benefits of low-fat diets for lowering high cholesterol, a new study stressed the importance of replacing fatty foods with nutritious items. The study, reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine (May 3, 2005), compared a plant-based (ie, vegetarian-style) diet and a diet packed with the convenience foods usually seen in the average American diet.

The study involved 120 adults aged 30 to 55 years with mildly elevated low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. For the study, the participants were randomly assigned to follow 2 diets low in fat—30% of daily calories—and saturated fat—limited to 10% of calories. The diets also had the same amounts of cholesterol, protein, and carbohydrates.

The major difference in the diets was food selection. One diet was comprised of large daily doses of whole grains, vegetables, soy protein, fruits, beans, and nuts. Modest amounts of butter, eggs, and cheese provided the saturated fat. The second diet, modeled after what an individual may eat when cutting fat, included skinless chicken, potatoes, low-fat cheese, and reduced-fat snack foods.

After 4 weeks, the researchers found that the 59 participants on the vegetarian-style diet experienced an 18-mg/dL drop in their total cholesterol and a 14-mg/dL drop in their LDL cholesterol. The 61 participants on the comparison diet observed a 9- mg/dL drop in total cholesterol and a 7-mg/dL reduction in LDL levels.