A low fat diet that is high in fiber, nuts, and vegetable proteins may be just as good as certain drugs at lowering high cholesterol levels, new Canadian research suggests.
This is the first study to show that this type of diet can reduce cholesterol levels to the same extent as statins, said Dr. David J. A. Jenkins, from St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto. Statins, such as Lipitor or Pravachol, are the most commonly used type of drug to treat high cholesterol levels.
Forty-six adults with high cholesterol levels were put on a low fat diet, or a low-fat diet plus a statin, or the special diet for 4 weeks. The special diet included almonds, soy proteins, high-fiber foods like oats and barley, and margarine with plant sterols, natural chemicals found in leafy green vegetables.
As reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, all of the treatments produced a drop in levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol. However, the special diet and the diet plus statin produced a much bigger reduction than the low fat diet.
The special diet and statin treatment were also better than the low fat diet at reducing levels of C-reactive protein, a chemical in the blood that has been linked to heart disease.
In general, people tolerated the special diet. The diet offers some flexibility in terms of what can be eaten so people should be able to stick with it. The vegetarian-style l diet could be given to people who currently use statins to lower their cholesterol, Jenkins said. "They might be able to do without their medications," he said.
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