You’ve probably heard of the heart-healthy Mediterranean Diet. And you may have heard of the DASH Diet, which is designed to lower blood pressure. But you may not have heard of the Portfolio Diet.
All three eating patterns are based on plant foods and help the heart. But if lowering cholesterol is very important to you, the Portfolio Diet deserves a closer look. It has been shown to do a better job of lowering cholesterol than a diet low in saturated fat (found in fatty meats and full-fat dairy products). People who eat a low-saturated-fat diet and follow the Portfolio eating pattern can lower their “bad” LDL cholesterol by 35%.
Besides lowering cholesterol, recent research shows that following the Portfolio Diet also reduces other risk factors for heart disease, including blood pressure and harmful inflammation. This lowers the risk for heart disease over the next 10 years by 13%. In the study, levels of C-reactive protein, which tell you how much inflammation is in your body, fell by 32%.
The Portfolio Diet can be very helpful if you cannot take or want to avoid high doses of cholesterol-lowering medications called “statins,” used to lower risk of heart attacks. Research shows that this way of eating lowers cholesterol almost as much as some of the weaker statins without the side effects that may come with them.
So what is the Portfolio Diet? This eating pattern is a combination of several recommendations that have been proven to lower cholesterol. It starts with eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Then you can add four specific types of foods that specifically help to reduce cholesterol. These include:
- Soluble fiber. Twice a day, eat a food with soluble fiber, such as oatmeal, barley, beans, blackberries, pears, apples, and eggplant. Or you could ask your pharmacist to help you find a fiber supplement made from psyllium husk. You need 18 grams of soluble fiber a day. To start, eat more beans, such as lentils and chickpeas and add psyllium or oat bran to smoothies.
- Plant sterols and stanol esters. These substances are found in certain margarines and supplements. You need 2 grams a day. The Cleveland Clinic lists products with plant sterols and stanols here.
- Soy Protein. This is found in soy products, such as tofu, soy milk, soy cheese, soy nuts, soy protein bars, and soy protein shakes. You need 35 grams a day. Try replacing regular milk for soy milk on cereal and in coffee and experiment with products like soy-based veggie burgers and deli slices.
- Nuts. You need a handful—about 20 raw almonds a day. Contrary to what you might have heard, they aren’t bad for your weight. Snack on them between meals or add them to salads and yogurt.
It may sound hard at first, but with the Portfolio Diet, it’s not all or nothing. You can start by adding one new cholesterol-lowering food type to your diet, such as using a plant sterol spread instead of margarine or butter. Once you get used to that new food type, you can try adding another. Every little change helps.
The research suggests that it won’t take long to see a drop in your cholesterol on the Portfolio Diet. In no time, you’ll improve your heart’s health and probably feel better too!