Harvard Women's Health Watch

What foods are included in the portfolio diet?

A study in The Journal of the American Medical Association (Aug.24/31, 2011) found that a vegetarian diet emphasizing a "portfolio" of cholesterol-lowering foods did a better job of reducing low-density lipoprotein — the so-called "bad" cholesterol — than a low-saturated-fat vegetarian diet. All participants in the study followed a heart-healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Those in the portfolio group were told to emphasize four specific types of cholesterol-lowering foods in their diets — soluble fiber, nuts, soy protein, and margarines enriched with plant sterols — while those in the low-saturated fat group were told to avoid these foods.

For someone eating 2,000 calories per day, a portfolio diet would aim to provide the following amounts of these cholesterol-lowering foods:

  • Soluble fiber: 18 grams per day of fiber from foods such as oatmeal, oat bran, barley, peas, beans, lentils, psyllium, and vegetables such as okra and eggplant

  • Nuts: one ounce, or about one handful, per day

  • Soy protein: 42.8 grams per day from soy-based foods such as soy milk, tofu, and soy meat substitutes (four ounces of tofu contains 9.4 grams of soy protein; eight ounces of regular soy milk contains six grams of soy protein)

  • Plant-sterol-enriched margarine: 1.8 grams per day (1 to 2 tablespoons, depending on the product; see the chart "Foods fortified with plant sterols" for more information)

Below is a representative diet followed by participants in the portfolio group:

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