Study: Vegetarian Diet Lowers Cholesterol
By THE ASSOCIATED
NEW YORK TIMES
Filed at 6:20 a.m. ET, March 20, 2003
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- A new vegetarian diet emphasizing soy and soluble
fiber can lower cholesterol by a surprising one-third. But finicky eaters may
balk at its daily helpings of okra, eggplant and Metamucil, among other things.
The Portfolio diet, as it's called, involves several trendy nutrients that
have been shown separately to be good for the heart. Canadian researchers set
out to see what would happen if they were combined into a single regimen.
In Miami Beach on Thursday at a meeting of the American Heart Association,
they presented data showing that the combination seems to work. Ordinarly,
people do well to lower their cholesterol by 10 percent by changing their diet,
so doctors often have to prescribe powerful statin drugs to get their
cholesterol down far enough.
``The reductions are surprising,'' said Cyril Kendall of the University of
Toronto, who directed the study. ``Most dietitians would not expect that sort of
reduction through dietary means.''
He said the Portfolio diet appears to do about as well as the older statin
drugs that are still frontline therapy for high cholesterol.
His 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.
In the experiment, 25 volunteers ate either a standard low-fat diet or the
Portfolio diet, while researchers watched the effects on their LDL cholesterol,
which increases the risk of heart disease, and HDL, which lowers it. After a
month, LDL levels fell 12 percent in those on the standard diet and 35 percent
in those on the Portfolio diet. However, HDL levels were unchanged in people on
the Portfolio diet.
Kendall said volunteers found the diet extremely filling, and several stayed
on it after the experiment ended.
``It appears that a Portfolio diet is effective at reducing cholesterol and
coronary heart disease risk,'' he said.
Whether it truly is as good as a statin, though, remains to be seen. Those
drugs have been proven to reduce the risk of heart attacks and death, while the
diet has not been put to that test. And statins may also protect the heart in
ways that go beyond their effect on cholesterol.
In the experiment, dieters got foods supplied by the researchers that are all
available from supermarkets or health food stores. Every meal contained soy in
some form, such as soy yogurt or soy milk.
A typical breakfast included oat bran, fruit and soy milk. Lunch might
feature vegetarian chili, oat bran bread and tomato. A dinner could consist of
vegetable curry, a soy burger, northern beans, barley, okra, eggplant,
cauliflower, onions and red peppers. Volunteers also got Metamucil three times a
day to provide soluble fiber from psyllium.
On a 2,000-calorie daily diet, volunteers got two grams of plant sterols from
enriched margarine, 16 grams of soluble fiber from oats, barley and psyllium,
and 45 grams of soy protein. They also got 200 grams of eggplant and 100 grams
of okra daily and 30 grams of raw almonds. Additional vegetable protein was
provides by beans, chick peas and lentils.
In another report at the conference, researchers from Children's Hospital in
Boston found that people who eat breakfast every morning are less likely to be
overweight or show early signs of diabetes. Among the 2,831 volunteers, white
men and women who ate breakfast daily were only half as likely to be obese as
were those who ate it seldom or never. Black men were 35 percent less likely,
but for reasons the researchers could not explain, breakfast was not linked with
lower weight in black women.
Mark Pereira, who presented the data, said people who eat breakfast may be
less likely to snack during the day, so they end up eating less.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Medical Editor Daniel Q. Haney is a special correspondent for
The Associated Press.