If you want to lose weight while still enjoying some of your favorite summer foods, you might consider the portfolio diet. A plant-based eating plan from the early 2000s, the portfolio diet was originally designed to help people lower their cholesterol. But the portfolio diet benefits extend far beyond that. So take advantage of your beloved summer greens while they are still in season to cut down fat and improve your overall heart health on the portfolio diet — as long as you do it right.
What is the portfolio diet?
The portfolio diet is a modified vegetarian diet emphasizing foods that have been shown to lower low-density lipoprotein (more commonly known as "bad cholesterol"). Developed by Toronto-based researcher David Jenkins, MD, the portfolio diet consists of a specific group of plant-based foods, all of which lower cholesterol independently. When put together in a larger collection — a "portfolio," you might say — this diet is a scientifically recognized way of significantly reducing bad cholesterol.
How significant? According to the Lipid Genetics Clinic in Canada, research has shown LDL reductions of 20 to 30 percent for folks on the portfolio diet — and that's regardless of whether or not they're taking a statin. Perhaps even more impressive is that the portfolio diet has also been found to do a better job of lowering bad cholesterol than a low-saturated-fat vegetarian diet, according to a 2011 study.
Lowering cholesterol isn't the only plus of going on the portfolio diet, though. A 2015 study also found that the portfolio diet can also reduce blood pressure by an average of 2 percent, after being compared with another eating plan designed to reduce hypertension. "This is a very important secondary finding to the original study, adding to the literature connecting diet with health," said Dr. Jenkins in a press release. "It fills in yet another area we often worry about. We can now say the dietary portfolio is ideal for reducing overall risk of cardiovascular disease."
Most recently, 2018 research has found that the portfolio diet also reduces other risk factors for heart disease, such as inflammation and triglycerides. In a review of seven controlled trials involving more than 400 patients, researchers discovered that the portfolio diet limited several risk factors for an estimated 13 percent reduction in the overall risk for coronary heart disease, including a heart attack.
Although weight loss may not be the original aim of the portfolio diet, following the plan can certainly help you shed extra pounds if you set the plan up properly with your doctor. According to Harvard Medical School, some foods that lower your cholesterol can also be helpful for weight loss. One standout plant-based food that fits this description is beans, which is a signature part of the portfolio diet.
What foods can I eat on the portfolio diet?
The portfolio diet includes four specific types of cholesterol-lowering foods: viscous soluble fiber, nuts, soy protein, and plant sterols. Viscous soluble fiber is a special type of dietary fiber that has been shown to have a lowering effect on blood pressure and may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease as a whole. It can be found in foods like eggplant, barley, and oats. As for plant sterols, those are natural compounds that restrain absorption of cholesterol. They can often be found in enriched products such as margarine. For the other foods, you have a lot of freedom in terms of picking a healthy mix of nuts as well as a variety of forms of soy protein, such as tofu, soy yogurt, soy milk, soy cheese, and edamame.
In terms of the amounts of all those foods you eat on the portfolio diet, it can include approximately 20 grams of the fiber, 45 grams of the nuts (about a handful), 50 grams of the plant protein, and 2 grams of the plant sterols. It's worth noting that these measurements are based on a 2,000-calorie portfolio diet, which was the subject in one of the most recent studies. Remember that your caloric needs might be different from those who participated in the study, so some adjustments would be necessary.
The portfolio diet is a "largely vegetarian" approach, so it does involve seriously limiting your meat and dairy intake, if not cutting those food groups out of your diet entirely. It is also low in saturated fat and sodium, so any extra-salty snacks like chips or fries or anything heavy like ice cream would probably not be your best bet.
Although the portfolio diet includes many healthy foods, it might not be right for you if you have allergies to nuts or soy, or if you're unwilling to give up meat. As always, talk to your doctor before starting any new diet or eating plan, including the portfolio diet. After all, the most important part of healthy eating is your health!
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