(CBS) Trying to lower your cholesterol level? A new study suggests it may be time to ditch the low-fat diet and start eating cholesterol-lowering foods.
Nuts, soy, plant sterols, and soluble fibers.
"Eating more of these simple, inexpensive ingredients such as oatmeal, barley and beans, peas and lentils can have a significant impact on lowering blood cholesterol and risk for a heart attack -- one forkful at a time," Dr. Linda Van Horn, a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University, told USA Today.
For the study - published in the August 24 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association - 345 people with high cholesterol and triglyceride levels were placed on three different regimens: a low-saturated fat diet, a diet that emphasized cholesterol-lowering foods with two counseling sessions, and a cholesterol-lowering diet with seven counseling sessions. After six months, the people who received counseling on cholesterol-lowering foods saw more than a 13 percent cholesterol drop, while the low-saturated fats group saw only a 3 percent reduction.
"The results show that we do have something worthwhile to add to the dietary formula," study author Dr. David Jenkins, research chair in nutrition and metabolism at the University of Toronto, told Time.
And it doesn't take much, according to Dr. Jenkins. A handful of nuts, two teaspoons of sterol-enriched margarine, two servings of soy protein - like a glass of soy milk and a soy hot dog - and two servings of oatmeal per day can really make a difference.
Some experts were surprised a couple counseling sessions could bring about this dramatic diet change.
"Getting people to change from animal to soy protein can be quite a challenge, and people need encouragement," Dr. Jeannie Gazzaniga-Moloo, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, told WebMD. She says this type of diet could be helpful since they're bringing foods in, rather than just telling people to avoid foods, like in a low saturated fat diet.
About one in six Americans have high cholesterol, which puts them at risk for developing heart disease - the nation's number one killer. A total cholesterol level above 240 is considered high and doubles the risk compared to someone with cholesterol under 200. Adults should have their cholesterol levels checked once every five years. Besides diet, regular exercise, keeping a healthy weight, and not smoking are ways to maintain normal cholesterol.
The CDC has more on managing cholesterol.