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Nutrition & Weight Control

2004 Edition

New Research:
New Diet Similar to Drugs for Cholesterol Lowering

A vegetarian diet high in sterols, soy, fiber, and almonds can achieve low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol lowering comparable to that achieved with a low-dose statin and better than a low-fat diet, a new study shows.

The study randomized 46 people with high LDL cholesterol to one of three four-week treatments: 1) a vegetarian control diet emphasizing whole grains and low-fat dairy products; 2) the control diet plus 20 mg of lovastatin (Mevacor) daily; or 3) an investigational vegetarian diet emphasizing sterols (natural plant compounds), soy protein, soluble fiber (mainly from oats, barley, psyllium, eggplant, and okra), and almonds.

LDL cholesterol decreased significantly more in the investigational-diet group and the lovastatin group (29% and 31%, respectively) than in the control group (8%). (Higher doses of
or more potent statins can lower LDL cholesterol by 50%.) Levels of C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation and a heart-disease risk factor, decreased significantly less in the control group (10%) than in the investigational-diet group and medication group (28% and 33%, respectively).

Cholesterol guidelines recommend consuming 25 g of soluble fiber daily and possible inclusion of 2 g of plant sterols daily. Levels of intake of soy and nuts have not been established, but these foods have potential heart benefits.

Journal of the American Medical Association
Volume 290, pages 502 and 531
July 23/30, 2003


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