Don't Know Beans About Lowering Cholesterol?

Cutting your cholesterol level up to 20 percent may be as easy as bean pie.

ByABC News
October 4, 2007, 1:35 PM

Oct. 4, 2007 — -- October is National Cholesterol Awareness Month, but most people think they already know about cholesterol. Ask them, and they'll tell you it's bad, you should avoid it in your diet and that you want your blood cholesterol number to be lower.

Actually those three things are only about half true.

Your body makes cholesterol on its own. Good thing, because it serves some useful purposes in the body: cell structure, nerve function and so forth. Secondly, unless you eat no animal products whatsoever, you can't avoid it in your diet. And third, you really only want to lower the bad cholesterol -- the LDL stuff. HDL cholesterol, the good kind, is OK at higher levels.

Since the advent of statin drugs, most people don't worry very much about their cholesterol levels. The drugs are very effective at lowering bad cholesterol (the LDL stuff) and while that's good, some people feel they have a pass to return to eating a crappy diet. But these drugs aren't without their side effects, like short term memory problems, muscle weakness and others.

Did you know there are foods that will absolutely help lower cholesterol? But by how much? It depends on how much of them you eat. Foods like oatmeal, soy protein, almonds and plant sterols (think those special margarine-type spreads), along with fruits and vegetables each lower serum cholesterol a bit -- several percentage points. That's fine, but if you include them all together, there seems to be an additive effect.

Research by David Jenkins of the University of Toronto documented this effect, referring to it as the "Portfolio Diet." The additive effect amounts to a lowering of serum cholesterol by 30 percent, about the same as the early statin drugs. Of course, the down side is that this is a vegan diet -- no animal foods at all -- and that's hard for most of us.

If you'd rather get some serious cholesterol lowering without having to go completely vegan, there is hope on the way -- and you'll like this news.