Prevention Research Center In the Department of Medicine

The Effect of a Plant-Based Diet on Plasma Lipids

SaladFor several decades recommendations for lowering blood cholesterol from national guidelines and agencies such as the American Heart Association (AHA) have focused on avoiding saturated fat and dietary cholesterol. However, this strategy has shown to be only modestly successful, leading several researchers and physicians to the conclusion that dietary modification alone is not an effective therapy. More recent studies have suggested that including foods or factors known to lower blood cholesterol may be a more successful approach than merely avoiding saturated fat and cholesterol. Soy protein, soluble fiber, plant sterols, and nuts are examples of foods and dietary factors that have shown potential benefits in improving lipids. In 2000, the AHA substantially revised its previous dietary guidelines to emphasize overall dietary patterns including more vegetables and whole grains (in general, a plant-based diet), while maintaining the recommendation to follow a low-saturated fat, low-cholesterol diet.

We conducted a study designed to determine whether a plant-based diet consistent with the 2000 AHA dietary guidelines would be more effective in lowering blood cholesterol than the previously recommended low-fat, low-cholesterol diet. We randomly assigned 125 participants with moderately elevated cholesterol to eat either a plant-based diet, low in saturated fat and cholesterol but also rich in fiber, nutrients and phytochemicals, or a convenience foods-based diet with the same level of total and saturated fat and cholesterol.

After 4 weeks, the participants eating the plant-based diet, rich in nutrients and phytochemicals, reduced their total and LDL cholesterol significantly more than the participants consuming a standard low-fat diet. To learn more about the details of the study, read the Abstract published in the Journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

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