Everything you need to know about the Portfolio diet

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It is estimated that at least seven per cent of Australians have high blood cholesterol, and with at least 25 per cent of all deaths in Australia linked to heart disease, a diet that is designed to help target cholesterol is nothing but a good thing. Developed by Canadian lifestyle researcher Dr David Jenkins, the Portfolio diet focuses on incorporating a number of key ‘portfolio’ foods into the daily diet, foods that have been scientifically proven to help lower blood cholesterol levels.

Largely a plant-based approach to eating, the diet also has scientific backing to show that it is able to significantly reduce blood cholesterol levels and bears close resemblance to the Pritikin approach made popular in the late ’70s and ’80s.

(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

So, what can you eat on the Portfolio diet?

The core of the diet, the ‘portfolio’ foods include soy protein, nuts, foods rich in soluble fibre and foods that are a source of plant sterols, naturally occurring molecules that have a similar shape to cholesterol and as such help to block its uptake in the body.

For each of these portfolio foods, there are daily targets, including a serve of nuts each day and at least 18g of soluble fibre, a specific type of fibre found in some fruits, vegetables, oats and legumes that helps to lower cholesterol levels. Overall, the diet is extremely low in saturated fat and high in dietary fibre.

While the word ‘diet’ suggests a prescriptive plan, The Portfolio approach does not have set meals or a weekly plan, rather followers are encouraged to simply make smart swaps as part of their diet, for example regular milk for soy milk, or butter for plant sterol rich margarine. In addition, processed foods and high fat foods are discouraged, as are sugary snacks and sweet drinks.

A sample day on the Portfolio Diet could include:

Breakfast: Soy milk and oat smoothie

Lunch: Minestrone soup

Snacks: Edamame beans, nuts, wholegrain crackers and nut spread

Dinner: Stir fry vegetables with tofu and brown rice

Simply by eliminating animal-based foods including meat and dairy, as well as processed foods also significantly reduces the overall calorie load of the diet, although it does need to be said that it is not a diet designed for weight loss, although this indeed may be an associated benefit.

Diet without the ‘diet’

In theory this all sounds great, but the reality is that it is not so easy to follow a diet for which there is no real diet, rather a few guidelines. This is especially true for those of us not accustomed to doing the meal preparation and planning required to successfully incorporate soy protein, plant sterols and this much soluble fibre into the diet on a daily basis. A 100 per cent plant-based diet is also not for everyone, and no matter how strong the data is to show that it reduces cholesterol, the reality is that many people want and prefer to include at least some animal protein in their diet.

Soy protein, nuts and foods rich in soluble fibre make up the Portfolio diet. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

It could also be argued that in the past 10 years, since this diet was first written about in the scientific literature, we now know that a Mediterranean approach — which too emphasises a high intake of legumes, fruits and vegetables but includes more good fats and lean protein than the Portfolio diet — is pretty effective at reducing cholesterol and improving our heart health. This means that if your cholesterol is on the high side, but you would like to include some lean animal protein there are proven dietary options that will not require you to become largely vegan as suggested in the Portfolio diet.

Author Susie Burrell is a leading Australian dietitian and nutritionist, founder of Shape Me, co-host of The Nutrition Couch podcast and prominent media spokesperson, with regular appearances in both print and television media commenting on all areas of diet, weight loss and nutrition.

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