If you are fighting high levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, what you are eating may not be the problem. It could be what you are not eating! A Canadian study found that people who followed a low-saturated fat diet that was rich in foods known to lower cholesterol and who received intervention from a dietitian had significantly lower LDL cholesterol levels after six months.

Not only did the intensive dietary portfolio reduce LDL cholesterol, but participants experienced a significant reduction in diastolic blood pressure compared to the control group.

The traditional medical treatment for high LDL consists of statin drugs and a high-fiber, low-saturated fat diet. Patients are encouraged to cut out foods like high fat meats, ice cream, whole milk, butter, and fried foods. From a dietitian's perspective, compliance with the diet is often low, especially if the patient is taking cholesterol-lowering medication because of the notion that the pill fixes everything.

Canadian researchers conducted a study of 351 adults in their fifties. Included were 137 men and 214 postmenopausal women who had LDL cholesterol levels ranging from 116 to 205 mg/dl. None of the subjects had a history of cardiovascular disease, cancer, untreated hypertension, diabetes, liver, or renal disease and none were currently being treated with medication for their cholesterol.

The participants were randomly placed in three groups. The control group was educated on a low-fat, high-fiber diet; the routine dietary portfolio group received the same healthy diet advice plus two visits with a dietitian for information on including more cholesterol-lowering foods in their diet; and the intensive dietary portfolio group was give the same dietary advice as the routine dietary portfolio group, but also had five additional visits with a dietitian during the six-month study.

The foods included in the routine and intensive dietary portfolios were foods known to reduce cholesterol. The foods included: foods containing high amounts of viscous fiber like oats and barley; foods containing plant sterols such as enhanced margarines, soy protein found in soy milk, soy meat substitutes, and tofu; and nuts. All of these foods are recognized by the FDA for their cholesterol-lowering properties and justifiable heart health claims.

In the control group, LDL cholesterol decreased by three percent. Those in the routine dietary portfolio group saw a 13.1 percent reduction in their LDL levels, and the intensive group experienced a 13.8 percent decrease in LDL cholesterol. According to Dr. David J. A. Jenkins, the Canada Research Chair in Nutrition, Metabolism, and Vascular Biology at the University of Toronto, the participants who had the best results were the ones who removed meat from their diet.

Not only did the intensive dietary portfolio reduce LDL cholesterol, but participants experienced a significant reduction in diastolic blood pressure compared to the control group. In addition, the routine dietary portfolio group saw a 10.8 percent reduction in their calculated 10-year coronary heart disease risk while the intensive dietary portfolio reduced risk by 11.3 percent. There was no significant decrease for those on the control diet.

So how does a person who doesn't want to take medication incorporate such cholesterol-lowering foods into their daily diet? Eat a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. Enjoy a palm size portion of nuts every day. Eat more whole grain cereals, breads, and crackers. Substitute bean dishes for meat dishes a few times a week. Fill half the dinner plate with fruits and vegetables. Substitute fruit for snacks instead of salty, fatty, or sweet treats. Consider using a margarine that contains plant stanols. See a registered dietitian for personalized guidance on incorporating cholesterol-lowering foods.

The study was released online on August 23 and was published in the August 24/31 print issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.