Mastering the Portfolio Diet: Balance Your Cholesterol With Food

A portfolio diet is a plant-based diet that emphasizes foods containing plant protein, soluble fiber, sterols, and monounsaturated fatty acids, all associated with lower blood cholesterol levels. Read more to learn how portfolio diets improve your cholesterol levels.

What is a portfolio diet?

The portfolio diet is a plant-based diet focused on four foods or food components (nuts, plant protein — soy products/pulses/lentils, — soluble fiber, and sterols) to lower blood cholesterol levels.

Researcher David J. Jenkins, who created the portfolio diet, investigated the effectiveness of the diet for hypercholesterolemia (high blood cholesterol) with various portfolio diets containing between 1–3 g/day of plant sterols, 35–50 g of plant protein, 10–25 g of soluble fiber, and 25–50 g of nuts.

Keep in mind that the portfolio diet does not contain meat and meat products, unlike other heart-healthy diets, such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) or the Mediterranean diet, which includes moderate consumption of animal foods, such as lean meats, fish, and dairy products.

Cholesterol management as a key focus

The creator of the portfolio diet, David J. Jenkins, investigated the effects of the portfolio diet in lowering blood cholesterol levels since the beginning of the 2000s. A meta-analysis analyzed the results of Jenkins' studies on the portfolio diet. The analysis of seven studies concluded that the portfolio diet improved LDL cholesterol levels in people with hyperlipidemia.

The cholesterol-lowering effects are linked to the plant-based feature of the portfolio diet, which emphasizes increased consumption of plant protein, plant sterols, soluble fiber, and nuts, which provide monounsaturated fats, phytosterols, and fiber.

Nuts, especially almonds, are consumed within a portfolio diet. Nuts contain high amounts of monounsaturated fatty acids. Monounsaturated fats are found in nuts, seeds, nontropical vegetable oils (such as olive, canola, and safflower), and avocados. Monounsaturated fatty acids have been shown to improve LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, also known as bad cholesterol.

Heart-healthy diets (such as the Mediterranean diet) encourage eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and lentils, and low to moderate intake of lean meats, eggs, and dairy products. A portfolio diet only includes plant-based protein, such as soy and soy products, pulses, and lentils. Therefore, all cholesterol-lowering diets emphasize increased intake of plant-based foods.

These foods are also high in fiber, another dietary component that reduces the risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease. Fiber reduces the absorption of cholesterol; therefore, it helps improve blood cholesterol levels.

Essential components of the portfolio diet

The portfolio diet emphasizes the consumption of nuts, plant protein (soy products/pulses/lentils), soluble fiber, and plant sterols.

Nuts

The portfolio diet contains nuts and peanuts. Nuts contain unsaturated fatty acids, which include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Some nuts, such as almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans, have higher monounsaturated fatty acids compared to others, such as walnuts. The portfolio diet focuses more on monounsaturated fatty acids.

Plant protein

The portfolio diet does not contain animal protein sources, such as meat, fish, eggs, or dairy. Protein should be taken from plant sources, such as soy, soy products (such as tempeh and tofu), and beans and lentils.

Soluble fiber

Fiber can be soluble or insoluble. The portfolio diet focuses on soluble fiber because this type of fiber is associated with cholesterol-lowering effects. Soluble fiber is found in food, including but not limited to oatmeal, beans, lentils, some fruits, vegetables, and nuts.

Plant sterols

The portfolio diet contains plant sterols of 2 g, which is easier to get if fortified foods are consumed. Natural sources of plant sterols include avocados, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, corn oil, and peanuts. Plant sterol ester supplementation has been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol levels after six months of daily 2–3 g plant stanols consumption.

Creating your balanced plate

Heart-healthy eating involves consuming more healthy fats (unsaturated fats), fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, less unhealthy fats (saturated fats), high-sodium foods, and added sugars.

American Heart Association (AHA) recommends 2.5 servings of vegetables, 2 servings of fruits, 6 servings of grains, 3 servings of fat-free or low-fat dairy, and 5.5-ounce equivalents of protein (mostly plant-based) daily in addition to weekly 6–8 ounces of seafood consumption for a heart-healthy diet.

You can follow the same healthy eating pattern with a portfolio diet, except you need to replace animal sources with plant-based ones. Therefore, you may get less vitamins and minerals found in good quantities in animal foods.

It's critical to first consult your doctor if you want to follow a portfolio diet. Your healthcare provider can inform you about the diet's potential benefits and drawbacks.

Benefits beyond cholesterol control

A portfolio diet may provide other health benefits, such as inflammation, blood pressure, heart health, and body weight improvement.

A meta-analysis investigated the effects of portfolio diets. The analysis of seven studies showed that a portfolio diet decreased body weight, but the results were insignificant. On the other hand, a significant reduction in inflammation markers (C-reactive protein), blood pressure, and 10-year risk of cardiovascular diseases was seen.

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