Millions of Americans pop statins to keep their cholesterol levels down. But new research suggests that cholesterol-friendly foods, such as soy products and tree nuts, may also contribute to lowering LDL, or "bad," cholesterol levels.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that people who ate a healthy diet filled with cholesterol-lowering foods experienced a 13 percent decrease in their LDL cholesterol levels. Those who followed a diet low in saturated fats experienced a 3 percent decrease, according to ABC News.
One of the most potent cholesterol-busters in that mix, plant sterols (sometimes called stanols), occurs in small amounts in many grains, nuts, vegetables, legumes and fruits and also can be added to foods or taken as a dietary supplement. Plant sterols mimic LDL cholesterol particles in the gut, preventing the absorption of those particles so that they pass through the body and are disposed of as waste.
The 345 subjects in the study, which was coordinated by a team based at St. Michael's Hospital, Toronto, all suffered high cholesterol levels and were considered at elevated risk of coronary heart disease. The subjects each followed one of three diets: an "intensive portfolio" diet, a "routine portfolio" diet, or a high-fiber, low-saturated-fat diet rich in produce and whole grains, which is commonly recommended to those who have had had a heart attack or need to lower their cholesterol.
Among the 267 subjects who completed the trial, all three groups lost roughly an equal amount of weight - between about 2 pounds 10 ounces and 3 pounds 12 ounces - after six months. But those on one of the portfolio diets - intensive or routine - saw their LDL cholesterol levels decline between 13.1% and 13.8% after six months, says Los Angeles Times.
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