- Your diet can be both a risk factor and a protective factor when it comes to your heart health.
- Heart-healthy diets like the Mediterranean and Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) are popular, but they’re not the only option if you want to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
- The portfolio diet emphasizes adding more plant-based foods to your diet to reap heart-healthy benefits such as lower cholesterol.
When you hear heart-healthy eating, you probably think first of the Mediterranean diet and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH). But a new study has shown that a lesser-known diet can also help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. People who followed the Portfolio Diet for a long time had a 14% lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.
Here’s what experts want you to know about the portfolio diet, including how you can make its principles part of your heart-healthy eating plan.
What is a portfolio diet?
The portfolio diet is a plant-based eating pattern that was developed in the early 2000s, Haley Crean, RD, a registered dietitian and board-certified diabetes care and education specialist, told Verivell.
The portfolio diet includes many of the gold standard practices for heart-healthy eating: It’s high in healthy fats and antioxidant-rich foods like produce and nuts and low in added salt and sugar.
Many of the core principles of the Portfolio Diet are not new, and Crean said they are similar to previous dietary recommendations aimed at helping people lower cholesterol, such as the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Diet for Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC ).
What makes the portfolio diet unique is that it focuses on what people can add to their diet rather than placing restrictions on specific foods or nutrients.
Crean said the diet encourages people to have a variety of cholesterol-lowering foods, such as nuts, plant-based protein, soluble fiber and plant sterols.
Here’s what Crean said is recommended daily if you’re following the portfolio diet.
- 42 grams of nuts per day
- 50 grams/day of vegetable protein from soy, bean, pea or lentil products
- 20 grams/day of soluble (viscous) fiber from vegetables, grains and fruits (including oats, barley, eggplant, okra, oranges and apples)
- 2 grams/day of phytosterols from the supplement
The portfolio diet has some similarities to the Mediterranean diet, primary study author Andrea Glenn, PhD, RD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and the University of Toronto, who was lead author of the study, told Verivell.
Both diets are low in saturated fat and include foods such as nuts, olive oil, fruits, vegetables and beans, she said.
As for the main difference between the Mediterranean diet and the portfolio diet, Glenn said the latter has more soy products, as well as more focus on viscous fiber foods like oats, barley, okra, eggplant. Overall, the portfolio diet is slightly more plant-based than the Mediterranean diet. But it doesn’t have to be 100% plant-based.
According to Glenn, the general guidelines are to replace the food portfolio with animal products that are high in saturated fat. For example, you can use olive oil instead of butter and substitute tofu or beans for red and processed meat.
How does the portfolio diet help your heart?
Studies have shown that following a portfolio eating pattern is associated with improved cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors. However, there is not much data showing the effects of long-term diet monitoring.
In a recent study, researchers looked at the relationship between adherence to a portfolio diet and the overall risk of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and stroke.
Researchers followed 73,924 women in the Nurses’ Health Study (19842016), 92,346 women in the Nurses’ Health Study II (19912017), and 43,970 men in the Health Care Professionals Follow-up Study (19862016). None of the participants had cardiovascular disease or cancer at the start of the study.
The researchers had data from food frequency questionnaires completed every four years, along with the participants’ medical data on heart health outcomes.
Looking at follow-up over nearly 30 years, researchers found that participants who followed the Portfolio’s dietary guidelines the longest had a lower risk of overall cardiovascular disease and stroke.
People with the highest portfolio diet had a 14% lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke compared to people with the lowest dietary compliance.
How to follow the portfolio diet
If you want to get started with nutrition, Crean suggests choosing one or two recommendations from the Portfolio and building from there.
Glenn agreed, adding that you can see benefits just by adding a few components to your diet (like eating more nuts and soy). As you get comfortable with supplements, Glenn said you can try working with more nutritional components, such as viscous fiber or healthy oils, to get more benefits.
Below are some ideas on how you can start exploring the Portfolio Diet.
Swap animal protein for nuts
Recent research has shown that replacing meat in your diet with nuts can improve your overall diet by increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and several key vitamins and minerals. The replacement could also help lower cholesterol.
Another study found a link between regular daily walnut consumption and sustained lower cholesterol levels in older adults who included walnuts in their diet for two years. The researchers also noted that consuming 1/2 cup of walnuts per day during those two years did not lead to weight gain.
Add the avocado
Avocado is an excellent source of viscose fibers of vegetable origin. In fact, 30% of the fiber in avocados is soluble fiber, which prevents your digestive tract from absorbing cholesterol and can help reduce your risk of heart disease.
Avocados are also an excellent source of heart-healthy fats, micronutrients and plant compounds. In addition, they are the richest known fruit source of phytosterols.
A meta-analysis on avocados and bad LDL cholesterol found that avocado intake had a moderate to large effect on LDL cholesterol levels.
A 30-year study found that people who ate at least one avocado per week had a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease compared to participants who never or rarely ate avocados.
Avocado is also a food that you can easily add to your existing diet, as it can be part of salads, smoothies and sandwiches.
Consider a phytosterol supplement
Phytosterols can be a useful addition to a heart-healthy diet because of their cholesterol-lowering effects. If you are interested in trying a phytosterol supplement, talk to your healthcare provider about your options.
The recommended daily dose of phytosterols is approximately 2 grams, but you’ll want to work with your doctor to determine the right dose for you.
You’ll also want to think about the shape of the supplement that suits your needs. The best phytosterol supplements come in capsules, tablets, or fortified foods.
When considering your options, choose a reputable supplement brand that follows quality manufacturing practices and whose products are third-party tested.
What does this mean for you?
Research suggests that the portfolio diet may offer cardiovascular health benefits. You can explore your diet by choosing more plant-based foods, especially those with heart-healthy fats, soluble fiber, and plant sterols.
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