Is it possible to decrease cholesterol by eating vegan snacks? A new research published this week in the prestigious Journal of Nutrition looked into a “food as medicine” approach to decreasing cholesterol. The research, which was conducted by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and the Richardson Centre at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Manitoba, invited hypolipidemic (high cholesterol) patients to consume specially prepared vegan snacks instead of other foods they would regularly eat. Participants’ LDL (commonly referred to as “bad”) cholesterol decreased by an average of 9% over the course of 30 days, with some having reductions of more than 30%.
Step One Foods provided the snacks, which include whole food fiber, plant sterols, ALA omega 3 fatty acids, and antioxidants into snacks made from plant-based whole foods including walnuts, cranberries, and flax seeds with the goal of naturally lowering cholesterol. The same set of people were given comparable “better for you” foods including Quaker Chocolate Chip Granola Bar, Bare Naked Fruit and Nut Granola, and Kellogg’s Strawberry Nutrigrain Bar, none of which included animal ingredients. Participants who had these snacks did not have decreased LDL levels after 30 days.
The study is self-fulfilling for Step One Foods since it confirms that its specifically prepared snacks work as planned. However, this study has broader implications, suggesting that plant-based, whole diets might be utilized as an alternative or addition to statin drugs to decrease cholesterol.
“Based on the outcomes seen in our study, using this type of food as medicine approach expands the options for medical professionals and patients… Many patients who are unwilling or unable to take statin drugs may be able to help manage their high cholesterol, or hyperlipidemia, with a realistic food-based intervention said Stephen Kopecky, MD, FACC, a cardiologist and Director of the Statin Intolerance Clinic at Mayo Clinic.
Cholesterol and a Plant-Based Diet
High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease, the world’s biggest cause of death, and it affects more than 94 million Americans—roughly one in every two persons over the age of 50. While the Step One Meals study only looked at their own snacks, other studies show that a wide range of plant-based foods can help decrease cholesterol.
Beyond Meat’s first clinical experiment, which was conducted in 2020, revealed spectacular effects when animal meat was substituted with its plant-based meat, which is derived from a pea protein foundation. The “SWAP-MEAT Study,” which was conducted by Stanford University and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, involved 36 participants who were given plant and animal meat products in two phases, as well as dietary counseling, lab assessments, microbiome assessments, and anthropometric measurements. Participants lost an average of two pounds during the plant-based section of the trial, and their LDL cholesterol levels reduced by an average of 10 milligrams per deciliter, which is statistically and clinically significant.
Consumption of animal products, on the other hand, has long been related to elevated cholesterol levels. Last year, a research published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Nutrition looked at the long-term consequences of a ketogenic diet, which normally restricts carbohydrate intake in favor of fat and protein derived mostly from animal sources. A team of physicians, researchers, and registered dietitians conducted a meta-analysis of over 100 peer-reviewed studies and discovered that people who follow a keto diet have a significantly higher risk of heart disease, LDL cholesterol buildup, kidney failure, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Overall, a plant-based diet may help older persons minimize the amount of prescriptions they use, such as cholesterol-lowering statin pills. Even after controlling for confounders, a research published last year in the medical journal American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine revealed that plant-based seniors took 58 percent less drugs than meat eaters. Taking fewer prescriptions also means less chances for drug interactions, which adds to the “food as medicine” approach’s advantages.
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