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Researchers in Canada have shown that a special cholesterol-lowering diet works well – even with only two nutritional counseling sessions over six months.
Making dietary changes like eating oat bran for breakfast, drinking soy milk instead of dairy, soy burgers in place of hamburgers, and fruit and nuts instead of a full lunch prompted a double-digit drop in both total cholesterol and LDL or "bad" cholesterol.
The study was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Lead author Dr. David Jenkins, Canada research chair in nutrition and metabolism at the University of Toronto and St. Michael's Hospital, had previously shown the effectiveness of a cholesterol-lowering diet when all the meals were provided to participants.
"The question one had to address was how does this play out with people in the real world," Jenkins said in a telephone interview.
To put the diet to the real-world test, participants received a one-hour counseling session with a dietitian and an illustrated study booklet at the outset and, later, received a 30-40 minute follow up session.
"It was just advice," Jenkins said. Even so, the results were dramatic.
Total cholesterol dropped from 256 to 230, while the LDL or "bad" cholesterol decreased from 173 to 148, according to the study.
Jenkins said participants achieved these results even though compliance to the whole grain, vegetarian diet was only about 40%.
In addition to the soy protein, nuts and whole grains, participants in the diet were encouraged to eat peas, beans and lentils.
A control group advised to eat a vegetarian, low-saturated diet but not with the cholesterol-lowering foods a saw a slight dip in total cholesterol, from 249 to 246, and in LDL, from 167 to 161.
Both groups lost about four pounds over the six months.
The 351 participants in the study suffered from high cholesterol but were not on a cholesterol-lowering statin medication. The study was conducted from June 2007 to February 2009 at academic centers in Quebec City, Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vancouver.