CHICAGO – Replacing a few carbohydrates with a little protein, such as scrambled egg substitute or with beneficial fats such as olive oil margarine, helps reduce heart disease risks, a study has found.
At dinner, this might mean instead of pasta, trying black bean tacos and multigrain pilaf with olive oil, researchers said.
Scientists had volunteers try three variations of the same diet, all of them low in saturated fats and including plenty of fruits and vegetables.
All three improved blood pressure and cholesterol readings after just six weeks, and adopting any of them would be beneficial, said lead researcher Dr. Lawrence Appel of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
“Most people aren’t following anything close to any of these,” he said, adding that the bottom line is: “You can eat healthy in three different ways, and two of them [those lower in carbs] are a bit better than the other.” Appel presented results yesterday at an American Heart Association conference in Dallas. The study appears today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
All participants tried each of the diets, eating meals prepared in a research kitchen.
The volunteers’ average blood pressure started out borderline high – 131 over 77. Systolic pressure – the top number in blood pressure readings – fell by an average of about 8 points while they were on the carbohydrate diet, 9.5 points on the protein diet and 9.3 points on the healthy fats diet.
LDL cholesterol, the bad kind, measured 129 on average at the start; 100 is considered optimal. LDL fell an average of almost 12 points on the carb diet, about 14 points on the protein diet, and about 13 points on the healthy fats diet.
Those reductions likely would translate into less heart disease if the diets were widely adopted, the researchers said.
They estimated that for every 100 people with mild high blood pressure, there would be one less heart attack over 10 years for those on the protein or healthy fats diet, compared with the more carb-friendly diet. Appel said the high-protein diet also seemed to produce feelings of fullness and reduced appetite.
“These symptoms raise the intriguing possibility that if individuals were to follow these diets long-term, there may be some weight loss on the protein diet,” he said.
Dr. Timothy Gardner, a Delaware cardiologist, said the study was “a tricky, difficult type of study to conduct, controlling all the factors, with very interesting results.” A JAMA editorial about Appel’s research, funded by the National Institutes of Health, questioned whether people in the real world would stick to the diets.
A Trio of Breakfasts
Three diets studied for their effects on heart disease lowered blood pressure and cholesterol, but the best results occurred when some carbs were replaced by a bit more protein or unsaturated fats, including olive, canola and safflower oils.
Grapefruit juice, multi-bran cereal, skim milk, banana.
Tomato juice, scrambled egg substitute with low-fat shredded cheese, hot bulgur wheat cereal with soy, olive oil margarine, raisins and sugar, skim milk.
Unsaturated Fat Breakfast
Orange juice, cereal with raisins and skim milk, white bread toast with olive oil margarine and jelly.