Vegetarian diet effective for heart as drugs
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Vegetarian diet is as effective for heart as drugs
SCIENTISTS have drawn up a vegetarian diet that they say can protect the heart as effectively as cholesterol-fighting drugs.
The super-healthy diet combined almonds, soya, high fibre cereals such as oats and barley, and plant sterols found in vegetables and fruits.
The Canadian study found that the special vegetarian diet cut levels of "bad" LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol by 29%.
In a comparison test it effectively fared as well as the standard anti-cholesterol drug lovastatin, normally only prescribed to people at serious risk.
The findings suggested that patients with high cholesterol should try the diet for six to 12 weeks before turning to cholesterol-lowering drugs, Dr James Anderson, of the University of Kentucky, wrote in an editorial accompanying the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Professor David Jenkins, the chief researcher from the University of Toronto, said: "As we age, we tend to get raised cholesterol, which in turn increases our risk of heart disease. This study shows that people now have a dietary alternative to drugs to control their cholesterol, at least initially."
He thought the reason the foods were so effective may be that an "ape" diet of high fibre, nuts and vegetable proteins suits humans.
A group of 46 men and women with raised cholesterol who took part in the month-long study were randomly assigned to one of three vegetarian diet groups.
One group ate meals low in saturated fats, while another had the same low fat diet plus a daily 20mg dose of lovastatin.
The third group was given the "special" cholesterol-lowering diet which included foods such as oat bran bread and cereal, soy drinks, and fruit.
A typical dinner for those on the diet was tofu bake with eggplant, onions, and sweet peppers, pearl barley, and vegetables.
Professor Jenkins said experts in the US already recommended diets containing the cholesterol-lowering foods. They were approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, the American Heart Association and the National Cholesterol Education Program.
"We have now proven that these foods have an almost identical effect on lowering cholesterol as the original cholesterol-reducing drugs," Professor Jenkins added.
The British Heart Foundation estimates that almost half of deaths from heart disease are due to raised cholesterol. Coronary heart disease kills more than 11,900 Scots a year.
Many experts are worried by the extent to which statins such as lovastatin are draining NHS resources, even though they save lives. In Britain, statins are prescribed to an estimated million people.
The recommended target level for blood cholesterol in the UK is less than 5 millimoles per litre. But men in England have an average level of 5.5 mml/litre and women 5.6.
Dr Frankie Phillips, a nutrition scientist from the British Nutrition Foundation, said the results were exciting but said for most people the diet would be unacceptable.
"You're talking about a vegan (non-dairy vegetarian diet), rather than a vegetarian diet, which requires a lot of commitment," he said. "It's also quite difficult to obtain all the iron, calcium and fatty acids you need from these foods alone.
"The first thing you should do if you're worried about your heart is to think about lifestyle, because diet isn't the only factor. Being overweight, taking no exercise and smoking are all massive factors too."
On the menu
Breakfast Hot oat bran cereal, soya beverage, strawberries with sugar and soluble fibre, and oat bran bread with enriched soya margarine and double fruit jam.
Snack Almonds, fresh fruit, and a soya drink.
Lunch Black bean soup, and a soya turkey, lettuce, tomato and cucumber sandwich using oat bran bread and enriched soya margarine.
Snack Almonds, soluble fibre, and fresh fruit.
Evening meal Tofu bake with ratatouille with a side dish of pearl barley and vegetables such as broccoli or cabbage.
Bedtime snack Fresh fruit, soluble fibre, and soya milk.