Published February 18. 2022 11:50PM
The study made an important, positive discovery.
In prior ones, limiting saturated fat had reduced LDL cholesterol levels in those who needed to do so but wanted to avoid prescribed medication by between 8 and 10 percent. In this one, following a vegan diet dropped LDL cholesterol levels in the same sorts by an average of 17 percent.
The study, though, also made an important, negative one.
Following a vegan diet was found to be, to put it kindly, challenging. The dropout rate exceeded 50 percent.
While this can be partly attributed to the fact a May 2021 Ipsos poll found 89 percent of adult Americans regularly consume meat and 59 percent believe eating the red stuff to be part of the American way of life, this dropout rate was still more than double the average found in a 2013 systematic review of lifestyle intervention programs for overweight and obese women. So the researchers at the Mayo Clinic, the University of Manitoba, and the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals in Canada who devised the first study formulated a second one to – as the song from a bygone era goes – accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.
This study, published in the February 2022 issue of The Journal of Nutrition, didn’t alter entire diets, but fed the participants “hedonically acceptable snack-based [foods] formulated from cholesterol-lowering food ingredients.” In other words, the researchers altered the ingredients in a few snacks people generally like, asked participants to eat the tweak in place of the original, and hoped for two things: that cholesterol levels would drop without as many participants dropping out.
Both hopes panned out.
Not only did 59 of the 64 subjects finish the 12-week study, but a few reduced their LDL cholesterol level by 20 percent. While the group’s average was only 8.8, percent – a reduction similar to limiting saturated fats – it was achieved with far less inconvenience: simply by eating two snacks a day that were “hedonically acceptable.”
In layman’s terms, that means good-tasting enough to be pleasurable.
The reworked snacks, such as smoothies, oatmeal, pancakes, cranberry bars, chocolate bars, and granola, contained at least 10 grams of fiber, 4 of which were soluble; 2 grams of linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid; 2 grams of physterols, a plant membrane similar in structure to cholesterol; and 3600 micro moles of antioxidants, assorted substances known to aid the immune system, delay aging, and promote overall health.
The reworked snacks also contained the same number of calories as the ones they replaced each day for a four-week period. To make a legitimate comparison, the participants then ate two of the original snacks during another four-week phase but only after a four-week “washout” period.
To conclude their paper, the researchers proclaim the “consumption of hedonically acceptable snacks containing a compendium of cholesterol-lowering bioactive compounds can rapidly and meaningfully reduce LDL cholesterol in adult patients unable or unwilling to take statin drugs.”
If this proclamation leaves you less than impressed, maybe you missed the point. This study helps confirm what I’ve written here for years.
That you don’t need to be draconian with your diet. Simple single dietary changes really do help your health.
Here’s one I recently stumbled upon by accident.
At least three times a week for lunch, I make what I call protein pancakes by combining two pancake mixes, one from Kodiak Cakes and one from Parrillo Performance. They’re rather filling, 90 percent complex carbs and protein, and when I add a chocolate topping made from protein powder, the meal is only about 350 calories.
But making the pancakes is time intensive, and more than one morning I’ve found myself wanting to keep writing or start working out instead. So I recently searched the frozen food aisle of Giant looking for an emergency replacement with a similar nutrient profile.
I found Kashi offers protein waffles. While these waffles are nutritionally superior to a typical grocery store offering, such as Kellogg’s Eggo Apple Cinnamon Waffles, and swapping the latter for the former do the average Joe well, that’s not so for me. If I’d substitute an equal caloric amount of the Kaski Vanilla Buttermilk version in place of my beloved protein pancakes, I would ingest 14 more grams of fat, 22 fewer grams of protein, as well as 9 grams of added sugars.
That’s a no-can-do for this guy.
But a week or two later, Giant ran a sale on a frozen pancake I didn’t know existed. It’s made by Kodiak Cakes and the ingredients and nutrient profile are nearly the same as their mix I use.
So now there’s a box of them in my freezer, just in case.
The point to sharing the hedonically acceptable snack study and my food shopping story is more than to reinforce that small dietary swaps help your health. It’s a reminder that sometimes a change for the better is not the destination but a way station.