I became interested in cholesterol lowering diets after my MSc dissertation looking at rates of cardiovascular disease. Now this is terrifying: in Europe, 47% of all deaths are caused by cardiovascular disease. In the UK, 1 in 3 premature deaths in men and 1 in 5 in women are attributable to cardiovascular disease. Keeping your bad (LDL) cholesterol low and your good (HDL) cholesterol high is important to protect your heart. And you can achieve this through your diet!
The Portfolio Diet is a new way to lower your cholesterol through diet. In a world full of unproven, faddy and sometimes unsafe diets, this one has been clinically proven to reduce blood cholesterol by up to 35%. That’s the same amount as the popular cholesterol lowering drugs ‘statins.’ Quite amazing! Where some people need to take statins, others may be able to adopt this diet as a successful alternative or addition.
Now dietary changes are never easy. The food we eat is an integral part of the way in which we live our lives, and few people can make and maintain sudden, radical changes. This particular diet takes quite a bit of dedication to begin with, but as you stick at it, it will get easier. It is not an easy option; popping cholesterol-lowering pills do the job for you in a much easier way. But this diet offers a realistic alternative should you wish to try! This diet is not a weight loss diet, but is a healthy way of eating so may help you loose weight over the long-term.
Start with the basics of a heart-healthy diet:
1. Saturated fat should make up less than 7% of your energy from food. If you are a woman requiring 2000 kcal per day, saturated fat should provide a maximum of 140 kcal. This amounts to 15 grams (as each gram of fat is 9 kcal). Practically, this means limiting high fat animal foods (red or fatty cuts of meat, high fat dairy such as cheese, cream and butter and some vegetable oils such as coconut and palm).
A far lower saturated fat option than the traditional muffin
2. You should consume 5 to 10 portions of fruit and veg, beans, lentils and pulses per day. This will make your diet rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals.
Courgetti with a tomato and prawn sauce: a great way to get in extra veg is by using a spiraliser to replace pasta!
3. You should not consume more than 6 grams of salt per day. Salt is found in high concentrations in processed foods, cured meat and cheese.
Add in the specific ‘portfolio’ of foods:
This is where the diet becomes a bit more tricky. So if you are trying to adopt this as an eating plan, you might want to start with the three points above. But hopefully, with the help of these recipe ideas, I can help to make it easier for you!
1. Add in 2 grams of plant sterols/ stanols per day: plant sterols and stanols decrease absorption of dietary cholesterol. Fat travels within your blood in ‘micelles’ – these are like little packages. Plant sterols and stanols replace the cholesterol within the micelles so it cannot travel around your body. Plant sterols and stanols are found naturally in nuts and seeds, but to get the required 2 grams per day you need to take fortified foods such as spreads, juices, yoghurts and milk. Two teaspoons of margarine, one yoghurt or a glass of milk would do it!
Fortified yoghurt with a dollop of homemade jam!
2. Eat 30 grams of almonds per day: all nuts are good sources of fibre, vegetable protein, heart healthy monounsaturated fat and vitamin E. The research for the Portfolio Diet is based on almonds but it is likely that other nuts will have a similar effect. I love almonds as a snack (but make sure they aren’t roasted with salt!), but you can also add ground almonds to your baking or flaked almonds to porridge and cereal.
Porridge made with flaked almonds is one of my go-to breakfasts!
3. Consume 20 grams of soluble fibre per day. There are two types of fibre: soluble and insoluble. Fibre is important for keeping your bowels moving. Soluble fibre is particularly important for heart health, as it forms a gel, which binds to cholesterol and bile acids in the small intestine and removes them from the body. As bile acids are made from cholesterol in our blood, eating more soluble fibre will result in more of the body’s cholesterol being used up in replenishing the bile acids. If you consume 5 portions of fruit and veg per day, you are probably getting at least 10 grams of soluble fibre. The other 10 grams per day can be made up from consuming oats, beans, pulses, pearl barley, lentils or chickpeas. Add these to salads, enjoy porridge for breakfast, or even use them in baking!
Choc-chip chickpea brownies – one of my all time favourite blog recipes!
4. Eat 50 grams of soya protein per day. Now this is where the diet gets a bit more tricky, so to ease yourself into it, start with 25 grams per day and increase it slowly. Soya protein works in this diet in two ways: firstly, is a good source of low fat protein and secondly it replaces other higher fat sources. And with a bit of creativity, it is actually a delicious replacement to milk, mince or even cheese! For the soya protein content of common food sources, visit the British Dietetic Association’s ‘Soya, food and health’ food fact sheet! If you are changing milk and dairy products for soya alternatives, make sure you buy fortified options (ones with added calcium). This is really important for your bone health.
A soya latte – a delicious coffee replacement! I experimented recently and am now an addict.
Now I realise that all the diet suggestions above might seem like a lot, but they are really not that difficult to fit into your day. Below I’ve put together an example diet to show you how!
Porridge made with oats, 250ml fortified soya milk and 30g flaked almonds
(10g soluble fibre, 7.5g soya protein, 30g almonds)
(2g soluble fibre)
A small glass of orange juice
MID MORNING SNACK
(2g soluble fibre)
Large glass of fortified soya milk
(7.5g soya protein)
Fish pie with broccoli and peas
(4g soluble fibre)
MID AFTERNOON SNACK
2 toasted crumpets with fortified margarine and soya cheese
(2g plant sterols and stanols, 4g soya protein)
Raw celery sticks
(2g soluble fibre)
Spaghetti Bolognese made with soya mince
(24g soya protein)
Small mixed green salad
(2g soluble fibre)
Soya fruit yoghurt
(5g soya protein)
And lastly but certainly not least: It is important that you discuss your intentions to follow The Portfolio Diet with your dietitian so they can give their approval and monitor your progress.