"Heart attack is obviously the big danger that everybody is worried about," says David Jenkins, M.D., Ph.D., clinical nutritionist at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, Ontario.
High cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease, but Dr. Jenkins says statins aren't the final word.
"Our research tells us that there is still life in diet yet and you don't have to give up and go straight to drugs," Dr. Jenkins says.
It's known some foods do lower cholesterol, but alone, they only lower it by about five percent. Jenkins wondered if a diet that combined powerful cholesterol-lowering foods would magnify their effect.
"Stack them up in terms of what we would call a sort of financial portfolio, but this is a dietary portfolio," Dr. Jenkins says.
His study shows a combo diet that includes soy proteins, nuts, plant sterols found in canola oil and enriched margarine, and fiber-rich foods like oats and barley actually lowered cholesterol by more than 20 percent.
John Flys was worried when he learned he had high cholesterol.
"Taking the medication was what bothered me more than anything else," Flys says.
Flys has never taken any drugs -- not even aspirin -- so he joined Dr. Jenkins' diet study. It paid off.
"You end up with a lot of energy. I've lost a lot of weight. I feel a lot better," Flys says.
In fact, he's lost 30 pounds!
"I think it's a miracle," Flys says.
And his cholesterol? It's back to normal -- no drugs needed.
The combo diet lowered bad cholesterol, but didn't significantly lower patients' good cholesterol levels. If you want to focus on raising those good cholesterol levels, Dr. Jenkins says exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and consuming the good monounsaturated fats like olive oil will help.
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