PEOPLE wanting to cut their cholesterol are better off eating the right combination of foods than simply consuming less fat, a new study shows.
A diet combining soy protein, nuts and vegetable oils was found to lower "bad" cholesterol levels more effectively than avoiding saturated fats.
The findings have a potential "clinical application" say Canadian scientists.
Over a six-month period, dietary advice given at two clinic visits resulted in a "meaningful" 13pc reduction in blood levels of harmful low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
The cholesterol-lowering diet also led to a predicted reduction in 10-year heart disease risk of almost 11pc.
A total of 345 patients from four Canadian centres took part in the study, all of whom suffered from high cholesterol.
They were split into three groups, one of which was recommended a low-fat diet that included fruit and vegetables.
Two others were advised on a "dietary portfolio" consisting of specific foods known to lower LDL cholesterol.
The cholesterol-lowering diet included margarine enriched with plant ester compounds from vegetable oils, soy products including milk, tofu and meat substitutes, and nuts. Eating peas, beans and lentils was also encouraged.
After six months the low-fat group had experienced a drop in LDL cholesterol levels of 3pc.
In comparison, switching to a diet that actively lowered LDL cholesterol led to a reduction of more than 13pc.
The researchers, led by Dr David Jenkins, from the University of Toronto, reported their findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
They wrote: "This study indicated the potential value of using recognised cholesterol-lowering foods in combination.
"We believe this approach has clinical application. A meaningful 13pc LDL-C reduction can be obtained after only two clinic visits of approximately 60- and 40-minute sessions."
The scientists pointed out that the study participants were already on modified diets aimed at improving their cholesterol.
Larger reductions in LDL cholesterol might be seen in people with diets "more reflective of the general population", they said.
Victoria Taylor, senior heart health dietician at the British Heart Foundation, said: "This study is encouraging. It emphasises how a 'portfolio' or combination of dietary changes, such as including nuts, soya beans and foods like oats and barley that contain a certain type of fibre, could boost efforts to reduce bad cholesterol.
"However, people need to be aware that following this type of plan in the long term takes commitment. Eating a few nuts or having the odd portion of soya beans won't make up for an otherwise poor diet."