- It’s possible to lower cholesterol levels with healthy food, not medication, a new study suggests.
- Benefits were linked to two daily servings of snacks with ingredients like walnuts and flax.
- The difference in cholesterol could have a major effect on heart health, according to a researcher.
It may be possible to lower your cholesterol levels without medication by swapping in more nutritious versions of foods like pancakes, granola, and chocolate, new research from the Mayo Clinic suggests.
Eating two servings a day of specially-designed foods was found to reduce cholesterol as effectively as medication in 30 days, according to a study published January 26 in The Journal of Nutrition.
The small change led to a 9% overall reduction in LDL cholesterol, often referred to as “bad” cholesterol due to its link to
“From a public health perspective it’s astonishingly massive,” Dr. Elizabeth Klodas, cardiologist and co-author of the study, told Insider.
The foods, made by Klodas’ company Step One Foods, were clinically-formulated to be rich in nutrients like fiber, antioxidants, and omega 3 fatty acids.
The results suggest that supplementing healthy foods could help reduce the risks of
It’s also promising evidence that food processing, often linked to less healthy outcomes, can be used to improve nutrient quality and make healthy food more convenient, according to the researchers.
“What I hope our study highlights is you can make convenient foods that support health, we’re used to convenience food that destroys health,” Klodas said.
Researchers formulas snacks from ingredients with proven health benefits, like walnuts, flax, and berries
Klodas and researchers from the Mayo Clinic and the University of Manitoba looked at 54 adults with elevated cholesterol levels over four-week testing periods. Participants swapped out some of what they normally ate with two servings a day of prepackaged snacks like pancakes, chocolate, smoothies, granola, and oatmeal. In the first phase of the study, the foods were ordinary versions of the snacks.
In the second phase, participants were given nutrient-boosted versions of the same foods, and weren’t told which was which. The nutritious versions of the foods incorporated ingredients like berries, walnuts, and flax, which evidence suggests are beneficial for heart health and cholesterol levels.
Following the month of eating nutritious foods, participants had lower cholesterol levels, as hypothesized, but the changes were much greater than expected, since their other lifestyle habits, diet, and exercise were the same.
“I was blown away by how quickly it happened and how statistically significant it was,” Klodas said.
While medications to reduce cholesterol are widely used and recommended as safe, some people may be unwilling or unable to take them (about 4% of people experience side effects). The study suggests food could be a valuable alternative strategy.
Processed food is typically less healthy, but may not have to be
The study also suggests processed food, often maligned for its health consequences, might be used to improve nutrition instead of worsening it.
“Processing strips food of the core health promoting components. We’ve done none of that,” Klodas said.
While eating mainly whole foods is linked to significant health benefits, including lower cholesterol, nutritious prepackaged food could provide a more convenient route for people who struggle to make changes, according to Klodas.
“We know what to eat, we just don’t do it, because people think it means changing your life upside down to start cooking with kale,” she said. “It may be partly our fault since we set people up to believe they have to be practicing yoga vegan triathletes for lifestyle to have an effect.”
Instead, Klodas encourages incorporating daily habits of healthy eating, which can make a major difference over time.
“The power of nutrition is vast — we eat multiple times a day every day, so the cumulative effect is enormous. A small change is actually a large change,” she said.