Plant-based diet can help cut cholesterol even without statins
Cholesterol is a waxy, fatlike substance in the blood produced by the liver and from the food we eat. There are two kinds: low-density lipoprotein or LDL, the “bad” cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, the “good” kind.
Triglycerides — another type of fat — also contribute to cholesterol buildup. Cholesterol is measured in milligrams per deciliter of blood — or mg/dl. Ideally, healthy people should have an LDL of 100 mg/dl or lower and an HDL above 60.
Cholesterol is not inherently bad — the body uses it to make cells, vitamins and certain hormones — but too much LDL can build up inside the arteries, raising the danger of heart disease and stroke. A high HDL level, on the other hand, helps protect the heart by carrying some of the LDL away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it is broken down and eliminated.
For those who shun drugs, experts say the best way to control cholesterol is through a disciplined diet and such healthy habits as regular exercise and sufficient sleep. One caution: Be sure to check with your doctor before quitting medication. They can also order periodic blood tests to monitor your cholesterol.
“Nobody wants to start taking medicine,” said Donald Hensrud, associate professor of nutrition and preventive medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine. “We all age, and things usually go up with age: cholesterol, weight, blood pressure. At some point, people are faced with this.”
Experts recommend a plant-based diet high in soluble fiber — oatmeal, oat bran, beans, apples, peas, citrus fruits, carrots, barley, flaxseed, a gel-forming powder called psyllium, as well as nuts and plant sterols, which are found in small amounts in fruits and vegetables, extra virgin olive oil, and nuts, and also added to some spreads, milks and yogurts.
They also urge consumers to avoid saturated fats, typically found in fatty and processed meats, butter, and in tropical oils such as palm and coconut. Go for unsaturated oils or polyunsaturated oils, such as corn, canola, sunflower and sesame. Saturated fat does more to raise blood cholesterol than naturally occurring cholesterol in eggs, experts said.
What about eggs? “One year they are bad, and the next they are okay,” Hensrud said. “Egg whites are pure protein, it’s the yolks that have dietary cholesterol and a small amount of saturated fat. They increase risks, but not a huge amount, which is why the American Heart Association suggests up to one egg a day.”
Many experts recommend the Portfolio diet, a plant-based eating plan designed by David Jenkins, university professor in the departments of nutritional sciences and medicine, Temerty faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto.
It heavily emphasizes eating soluble fibers and sterols and eliminating processed foods. An early study conducted by Jenkins and his colleagues compared the cholesterol- lowering effects of the Portfolio diet with those of statins and found no significant differences.
“We need to have more emphasis on helping people understand these plant-based diets,” Jenkins said. “Some people have never tasted a lentil stew, for example. It can be delicious as well as nutritious and good for cholesterol levels. We are keen to enable people to learn how to eat a plant-based diet. I know it can be difficult, which is always a problem with any diet.”
People don’t have to transition abruptly, he said. “Begin by introducing a few foods gradually,” he said. “The idea is to move toward making plant-based eating a way of life.”
Source: Washington Post