It seems there are countless studies pointing to “heart-healthy” versus “non-heart-healthy” foods we should consider incorporating into our daily diet. Most of us understand that certain foods – fatty red meats, trans fats in processed foods, cured meats such as bacon – are not good for us. So what’s the point of this continuous stream of information?
The fact is that science is narrowing the field of information to the point where certain foods, in certain combinations, have been shown to have exponentially beneficial health effects. We can, if we choose, design our own daily eating plans in accordance with this information – using the results of well-designed, reputable studies as guidelines. In this way we can up the odds in our favor that we’ll ultimately enjoy longer, more active lives. Some people are even dubbing these food guidelines “The High Blood Pressure Diet.”
One such study was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (Aug.24/31, 2011). Researchers found that subjects who followed a largely vegetarian diet that included “portfolio” of cholesterol-lowering foods did a better job of reducing low-density lipoprotein — the so-called “bad” cholesterol — than a low-saturated-fat vegetarian diet.
All participants in the study followed a heart-healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Basically, all were “eating healthy.” But those in the portfolio group were told to emphasize four specific types of cholesterol-lowering foods in their diets — soluble fiber, nuts, soy protein, and margarines enriched with plant sterols — while those in the other group were told to avoid these foods.
For someone eating 2,000 calories per day, this “portfolio diet” include the following amounts of these high blood pressure diet foods:
- Soluble fiber: 18 grams per day of fiber from foods such as oatmeal, oat bran, barley, peas, beans, lentils, psyllium, and vegetables such as okra and eggplant
- Nuts: 1 ounce, or about a handful, per day
- Soy protein: 42.8 grams per day from soy-based foods such as soy milk, tofu, and soy meat substitutes (4 ounces of tofu contains 9.4 grams of soy protein; 8 ounces of regular soy milk contains 6 grams of soy protein)
- Plant-sterol-enriched margarine: 1.8 grams per day (1 to 2 tablespoons, depending on the product)
After six months, LDL levels dropped an average of 13-14 percent in the “portfolio” group, compared with 3 percent in other group. Researchers reported that the portfolio group also had an 11 percent reduction in their calculated 10-year risk of having a heart attack (based on the Framingham Heart Study risk assessment tool). On the other hand, the control group had a mere 0.5 percent drop in calculated risk.
Each of the above foods has been the subject of past studies, and each has been touted as an important addition to a healthy diet. This study, however, gives a specific recommendation for a certain combination that could possibly save your life over the next 10 years.
Studies such as this will, over time, add to the accumulated body of knowledge as to the optimal human diet for healthy aging and longevity. Most of us may never actually follow that optimal diet, but with some tweaks and changes along the way we can come closer to the goal of enjoying a longer, more active life.