Prepared Foods February 14, 2005 enewsletter

A diet rich in fiber and vegetables lowered cholesterol just as much as taking a statin drug, Canadian researchers reported.

They say people who cannot tolerate the statin drugs because of side-effects can turn to the diet, which their volunteers could easily follow.

David Jenkins of St. Michael's Hospital and the University of Toronto and colleagues created what they called a diet "portfolio" high in soy protein, almonds, and cereal fiber, as well as plant sterols -- tree-based compounds used in cholesterol-lowering margarines, salad dressing and other products.

They tested their diet on 34 overweight men and women, comparing it with a low-fat diet and with a normal diet plus a generic statin drug, lovastatin.

Writing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Jenkins and colleagues said the low-fat diet lowered LDL -- the low-density lipoprotein or "bad" cholesterol -- by 8.5% after a month. Statins lowered LDL by 33%, and the "portfolio" diet lowered LDL by nearly 30%.

The portfolio was rich in soymilk, soy burgers, almonds, oats, barley, psyllium seeds, okra and eggplant. The Almond Board of California helped fund the study, as did several food makers and the Canadian Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

The researchers said nine volunteers, or a quarter of the group, got their lowest LDL levels from being on the portfolio diet.

The volunteers all felt full on the diets, although the "portfolio" diet resulted in more bowel movements, the researchers say.