Going green could help bring down the amount of LDL cholesterol in your blood, the bad kind that can lead to heart attack and stroke. While it's always been smart to ditch the butter and forget the fatty meats, new research suggests opting for plant-based foods is an effective way to lower the level of LDL cholesterol.
Canadian researchers recruited people with very high LDL and put them on a diet that included plant-based sterols supplied by a special margarine, soy protein from tofu, soy milk, and soy-based meat substitutes, viscous fiber from oats, barley, and psyllium, and nuts. After six months, the LDL level of the study participants dropped by an average of 13 percent, reducing their risk of heart attack and stroke over the next 10 years by about 11 percent on average. The study was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
"Each one of these ingredients will help you, but when they all work together, you'll get the strongest results," says study author Peter Jones, Canada's research chair in functional foods and nutrition. "Plant-based sterols alone can lower your cholesterol by 5 percent. When you add in fiber and nuts and soy, the story just keeps getting better."
The key to reaping the benefits of this regimen is to make smart swaps throughout the day rather than measuring out specific amounts of each ingredient, the study authors say. In particular, replace choices high in saturated fat with healthier, plant-based options. At breakfast, for instance, try oat bran, nuts, and berries with soy milk instead of a bagel and cream cheese. For lunch, substitute a couple of pieces of fruit and a handful of nuts for a ham, cheese, and mayonnaise sandwich every so often. You don't have to be rigid. "Life is about balance," says Jones. "You can always misbehave and get away with it—if a steak sandwich looks good, go ahead. It's not like a drug that you have to take every day. But the more often you subscribe, the better it will work."