Your cholesterol levels are a little on the high side. Almost without thinking, your doctor reaches for his pad to write a prescription for a statin - it is, after all, best practice.
So what's your response? Up to quite recently, possibly not a lot. But now you can point to a proper clinical trial that demonstrates that a proper diet is just as good as a drug at reducing cholesterol levels.
The statin lovastatin was tested against two types of diet - a simple diet low in saturated fats, which acted as the control, and another diet that was designed to lower cholesterol. The second diet, called by the researchers the 'portfolio diet', included plant sterols, soy-protein foods, including soy milks and soy burgers, almonds and viscous fibres from oats, barley, psyllium, and the vegetables okra and eggplant.
In all, 34 patients with high cholesterol underwent each of the three regimes for a month in random order. They tried the control diet, the diet with lovastatin and the portfolio diet. Some, therefore, would have started with the portfolio diet, while others might have tried it second or last in line.
After four weeks the effects of the statin and portfolio diets were similar; LDL-cholesterol levels dropped by 33 points for patients while on the controlled diet plus statin, and by nearly 30 points while on just the portfolio diet. By comparison levels fell by just 8.5 points while participants were on the control diet.
But, interestingly, nine participants achieved their lowest cholesterol concentrations while they were on the portfolio diet.
The researchers, from St Michael's Hospital in Toronto, concluded that the portfolio diet was as good as a statin in reducing cholesterol.