The Physicians Committee


July 23, 2003

Today’s Journal of the American Medical Association reports that a vegetarian diet incorporating soluble fiber, soy protein, almonds, and plant sterol ester-enriched margarine lowers serum cholesterol concentrations about as effectively as cholesterol-lowering statin drugs.

Forty-six adults with high cholesterol levels were randomly assigned to either

(1) a control diet incorporating low-fat cheeses, skim milk, cereals, and breads, along with vegetables and fruits,
(2) the control diet along with the cholesterol-lowering drug lovastatin, 20 mg/d, or
(3) an experimental “portfolio” diet—a vegetarian diet, to which each of the following were added in the following amounts for every 1,000 calories in the total diet:

1 gram plant sterol ester-enriched margarine
9.8 grams viscous fibers (oats, barley, and psyllium)
21.4 grams soy protein (soymilk and soy meat analogues)
14 grams of whole almonds
Eggplant and okra were added as additional sources of viscous fiber.

After four weeks, the control diet reduced low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol by 8 percent. The control diet plus lovastatin lowered LDL by 30.9 percent. The “portfolio” diet reduced LDL concentrations by 28.6 percent. There was no statistical difference between the latter two groups. The study concludes that the specially formulated vegetarian diet reduces LDL cholesterol with essentially the same effectiveness as cholesterol-lowering statin drugs.

Jenkins DJA, Kendall CWC, Marchie A, et al. Effects of a dietary portfolio on cholesterol-lowering foods vs lovastatin on serum lipids and C-reactive protein. JAMA. 2003;290:502-510.

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