JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Portfolio Diet

The Portfolio Diet is the latest in cholesterol-lowering eating. Put a group of superfoods together in a portfolio, and eventually you can throw away your statins ... have you noticed how all nutritionists cover themselves by saying you shouldn't do their diet without consulting your GP: do people really do that?

The problem with the portfolio is that in order to consume the required 2g of plant sterols a day, you have to buy Benecol margerine, or those diddly little plastic pots of probiotic drinking yoghurt. Not my scene. I find myself wondering who paid for the research into this diet, which I hope isn't unduly cynical. I'm buoyed by the thought that even the smallest amounts of soluble fibre are good. And by the news that even those who weren't following this diet to the letter were found to have improvements.

The portfolio arises from research at Toronto University led by Dr David Jenkins to see how these new processed foodstuffs fit in to a heart-healthy diet. They found that if you followed the diet for a month, it had positive effects.

Fundamentally, you need to follow the usual heart-healthy eating plan: reduce overall fats, cut right down on saturated fats, increase fruit and vegetables, also fibre. And then you add almonds, soya, soluble fibre, & plant sterols.

If you're following a heart-healthy diet, you're probably eating quite a lot of this portfolio stuff already. It seems to me that there are two problems with this portfolio: one is that you turn into a faddish eater, going against the sensible advice of Michael Pollan to Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. And the second problem is that by being prescriptive (almonds are better than, say, walnuts), you are reducing the variety of foods you eat. And variety is good, because it exposes you more micro-nutrients, without your having to worry about them.

But, anyway, here's a precis of the portfolio diet instructions given by Heart UK for quantities based on a diet of 2,000 calories per day:

ALMONDS: 30g daily. This is about 23 nuts

SOYA PROTEIN: 50g a day - we're talking soya milk, soya mince, soyabeans, soya yoghurt, soya burgers, tofu and tempeh. Stuff I never buy (Another Michael Pollan rule is useful here: Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. My grandmother would have trouble with this list, although I accept that this would not be so if we were Japanese)

SOLUBLE FIBRE: 20g daily. Here we are talking about some of my favourites, the food I would least willingly give up - oats, barley, beans, pulses, fruit.

PLANT STEROLS: 2g daily. They are naturally found in plant foods such as soyabean, corn, squash, vegetable oils and grains. In other words, a varied and balanced diet could take care of this at lower levels, no need to go to the food manufacturers for peculiar yoghurts, special margerines, orange juice with added who-knows-what. Because I find myself wondering whether there aren't side effects if you take them in quantities unavailable except by industrial process. But, these days, this seems to be a minority view. And certainly the supermarkets are full of so-called functional foods.

Links to related posts

Our basic rules
Affordable superfoods
Pyramid plan for healthy eating
80/20 rule
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's sensible slimming diet

Useful links

Heart UK, the cholesterol charity
Heart UK on the Portfolio Approach
Heart UK's healthy eating sheets download page
Amanda Ursell on the portfolio approach - she's a media nutritionist, tv and press


Anonymous said...

I have to say I really love your blog explanation. Its a great approach to health and eating that is really similar to what we try to do in my family (and by extension, on my blog). Always nice to find like minds out there.

Joanna said...

Erin thanks for kind words ...


teachlausd said...

I will not take a statin to lower my cholesterol levels, which my doc recently told me were too high, because I'm terrified of taking a medication that tinkers with the normal functioning of my liver and other internal organs.

He gave me a prescription for a statin and said to return in 3 weeks for blood tests, presumably to see if my liver wasn't shutting down.

I did not fill the prescription but got on-line and found the Portfolio Diet. I followed it scrupulously for 10 weeks, then went in for a blood test. The results were amazing. All the numbers dropped dramatically. The LDL is just over the limit, but the ratio to HDL is in the "low risk" category so I'm not going to worry about it.

The diet was not that hard for me because I'm fairly creative in the kitchen and I love all the foods this diet prescribes. I will now, as Joanna suggests, shift my eating habits to include a wider range of foods and also allow myself a treat now and then, like the carnitas tostado I'll order at a Mexican restaurant I'll be visiting tomorrow.

The lab results were mailed to me, so I didn't have to meet with the doc. I can't decide whether or not to tell him I didn't take the Lipitor he prescribed when I do see him. That stuff is poison! But it's much easier for a doc to just write a prescription rather than going through the arduous process of trying to change someone's eating habits. Although I feel it's still his or her responsibility to take the time to explain that diet and exercise will eliminate the need for taking expensive and possibly dangerous drugs.

Joanna said...

Thank you for this, teachlausd. I am so glad that your health has improved in this way - like you, I'm not too keen on pills if they can be avoided and your situation sounds like a win:win - better food AND better health.

And thank you for sharing your experience, because there's no doubt that many people feel a great deal of anxiety about what they eat and what they "should" eat