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Plant-forward portfolio diet reduces heart disease risk

While many of us are familiar with popular dietary regimens like the Mediterranean or DASH diet, a report from the American Heart Association promotes a diet that you’ve probably never heard of:the portfolio diet. A recent study suggests that this diet may significantly decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Portfolio diet 

The portfolio diet specifically targets the reduction of “bad” LDL cholesterol, which is a prominent risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The primary components of the portfolio diet include:

  • Plant-based proteins like soy and legumes.
  • Foods rich in viscous fiber such as oats, barley, berries, apples, and citrus fruits.
  • Nuts and seeds.
  • Phytosterols that decrease cholesterol absorption, available in fortified foods or as supplements.
  • Avocado and plant-based oils rich in monounsaturated fats.

Dr. Andrea Glenn is the lead author of the study and a registered dietitian at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston and the University of Toronto.

Consistent health benefits 

“Through this research, we found that the portfolio diet score was consistently associated with a lower risk of both heart disease and stroke, highlighting an opportunity for people to lower their heart disease risk through consuming more of these foods recommended in the diet,” said Dr. Glenn.

While prior studies have established that the portfolio diet can reduce LDL cholesterol levels comparably to early-generation statins, not much was known about its long-term effects on cardiovascular disease risk. 

Focus of the study 

This prompted researchers to analyze the diet data of 166,270 women and 43,970 men who were initially free from cardiovascular diseases in the mid-1980s to early 1990s. The participants’ diets were assessed every four years using food questionnaires.

After nearly 30 years, participants with the highest adherence to the portfolio diet had a remarkable 14 percent reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, in comparison to those with the lowest adherence. 

Lowering LDL cholesterol 

Dr. Kristina Petersen, an associate professor of Nutritional Sciences at Penn State, commented on the importance of lowering LDL cholesterol.

“We’re always looking at ways to reduce the risk of heart disease, and one effective way to do that is to lower blood cholesterol levels, particularly LDL cholesterol,” said Dr. Petersen

Although she was not involved in the current study, Dr. Petersen co-authored an AHA scientific statement that evaluated 10 prevalent diets based on their heart health benefits.

Plant-forward diet

The portfolio diet bears resemblance to other heart-healthy diets in terms of emphasizing whole grains, fruits, vegetables, plant protein, nuts, and plant oils.

While this diet may not be as well known as the DASH and Mediterranean diets, there are significant overlaps, said Dr. Glenn. The portfolio diet, she said, is more “plant forward” and discourages animal proteins more than other dietary patterns.

Lack of public awareness 

Despite its potential heart-health benefits, the portfolio diet’s lack of public awareness is evident. Dr. Glenn hopes that these new findings will elevate its status and emphasize its flexibility.

“It’s not an all-or-nothing approach. You can take your own diet and make a few small changes and see cardiovascular benefits,” said Dr. Glenn.

“You also do not have to follow it as a strict vegan or vegetarian diet to see benefits, but the more of the foods (from the portfolio diet) that you eat, the greater your heart disease risk protection, as we saw in the current study. We need to get the word out.”

The findings are published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

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