TORONTO — A small study suggests that a rigid diet is as effective as pills in lowering cholesterols, although sticking to it may not be easy.

Those interested in lowering their cholesterol should probably acquire a taste for tofu and oatmeal, said study co-author David Jenkins of the University of Toronto.

The study was published this month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Jenkins, Canadian research chair in metabolism and nutrition at the University of Toronto, and Dr. Cyril Kendall, also of the same university, studied 55 middle-aged men and women who had high cholesterol and were at risk of heart disease.

The participants were already on a heart-healthy diet. They were then prescribed a diet that included more specific foods, such as raw almonds, tofu and other soy foods, viscous fibres such as oatmeal, barley, okra and eggplant, and plant sterol-enriched margarine.

After a year, the group who stuck faithfully to the new eating plan lowered their cholesterol by an average of 29 per cent.

The rate was comparable to results from participants who had taken a statin drug for one month before starting the diet.

The group of participants who did not follow the diet as strictly still lowered their cholesterol by 10 to 20 per cent.

Those who did not stick to the new diet remained about the same.

Dr. Alice Lichtenstein, a professor of public health and nutrition at Tufts University in Boston, said the study was scientifically solid, but the diet is so strict she believes more North Americans would find it hard to follow in the real world.

“It’s a great diet and they started with a very motivated group of individuals who were used to consuming a low-fat or vegetarian diet,” she said.

“But I think that for the general population, we have to be realistic – and it’s unlikely that they’re going to be able to adhere to something like this.”

That mindset is what Jenkins hopes to change.

The real world is “a relatively hostile place” when it comes to healthy eating, he said.

“We’re asking people to buck the trend.”

 

~ Sunday Times (Singapore), 19-03-2006