The research also found that cholesterol-lowering foods were most effective when they were part of a total diet that uses them in combination.
Dr. David Jenkins of the University of Toronto says that statins do a good job of reducing cholesterol levels and thus heart disease risk. But he said that the effect of taking statins for a long period of time is still uncertain.
"Taking a pill may give people the false impression that they have nothing further to do to protect their health and prevent them from making serious lifestyle changes," Jenkins said.
Jenkins and his colleagues prescribed a seven-day menu high in viscous fibres, soy protein, almonds and plant sterol margarine to 31 men and 35 women. In that group, 55 followed the diet for a year, keeping diaries of food consumed and meeting with researchers every two months to discuss their progress and get their cholesterol level checked.
They found that 30 percent of the group successfully followed the diet and reduced cholesterol levels by 20 percent.
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