New study finds that vegan diet of soy, nuts and plant sterols reduces cholesterol

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A recent study published in the August 24/31 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has found that a vegan diet rich in soy protein, nuts, plant sterols, and viscous fibers can significantly reduce cholesterol.

Over a period of six months, a group of 345 Canadian volunteer subjects maintained either a vegetarian diet low in saturated fat and high in fiber and whole grains (the control group) or the special vegan diet including the four foods outlined above. Of those maintaining the special vegan diet, one group received seven counseling sessions (intensive intervention) and another received only two counseling sessions (routine intervention).

Soy protein, nuts, plant sterols, and viscous fibers have been identified as lowering the risk of cardiovascular heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. But according to study author David J. A. Jenkins, M.D. of St. Michael’s Hospital and the University of Toronto, this study is the first measure of the long-term effect of a diet rich in these foods as compared to conventional dietary advice.

After six months, the LDL-C cholesterol (bad cholesterol) levels of those on the special vegan diet with intensive intervention were reduced by an average of 13.8 percent; the levels of those with routine intervention were reduced an average of 13.1 percent; while the levels of those who maintained the generally “healthy” vegetarian diet were lowered only 3 percent. Furthermore, the special vegan diet did not significantly reduce levels of HDL-C (good cholesterol).

The researchers found that this intensive cholesterol-lowering diet significantly reduced diastolic blood pressure. It also reduced the 10-year cardiovascular heart disease risk by 11.3 percent in those subjects who had intensive intervention and by 10.8 percent in those who had routine intervention, compared to just a 0.5 percent reduction in the control group.

So what does this cholesterol-lowering vegan diet look like? Here’s an example of a day’s worth of food:

Breakfast: hot oat bran cereal, soy beverage, strawberries, sugar and psyllium, oat bran bread, margarine enriched with plant sterols, and double-fruit jam

Snack: almonds, soy beverage, fresh fruit

Lunch: spicy black bean soup, sandwich (soy deli slices, oat bran bread, enriched margarine, lettuce, tomato, cucumber)

Snack: almonds, psyllium, fresh fruit

Dinner: tofu bake with ratatouille (eggplant, onions, sweet peppers), pearled barley, vegetables (broccoli or cauliflower)

Snack: fresh fruit, psyllium, soy beverage

I know what you’re thinking. What the heck is psyllium? Turns out, it’s a pretty common dietary fiber of the genus Plantago, used in in high-fiber breakfast cereals (yum!) and in laxatives (yuck!). Its seed husks are used in ayurvedic medicine for things like colon cleansing and blood circulation.

According to this study, diet alone can have significant effects without the help of drugs or even exercise. That’s great news for people with high cholesterol who can’t afford prescription drugs or don’t have the time or the physical ability to exercise often. And a dietary approach to health could significantly reduce the country’s healthcare costs in the long run. So please pass the psyllium!

Meghan Joyce | Facebook
Meghan has been a vegan for a few months and blogs about it at She's a PhD student in musicology, an opera singer, and a yoga enthusiast who loves eating and loves the world.

Photo credit:roadbeamer

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