If you’ve been encouraged to improve your cholesterol levels, you may have heard about the Portfolio Diet.
This is an eating pattern designed to lower cholesterol levels. Unlike most other diets, it doesn’t set strict rules or restrictions about which foods you should eat or avoid.
Instead, it focuses on a few key ingredients that have been shown to support healthy cholesterol levels.
This article takes a closer look at the Portfolio Diet, including what it is, how it works, and whether it’s effective.
The Portfolio Diet was created by Dr. David J.A. Jenkins, a British physician who’s also credited with developing the concept of the glycemic index (GI).
The plan is designed to lower cholesterol levels and promote heart health by adding certain cholesterol-lowering foods to your diet.
In particular, the diet focuses on four key ingredients:
- soy protein
- plant sterols
- tree nuts
- soluble fiber
According to proponents of the plan, eating more of these foods can significantly lower your cholesterol levels to protect against heart disease.
The Portfolio Diet is a diet plan designed to lower your cholesterol levels by including more soy protein, plant sterols, nuts, and soluble fiber in your diet.
The concept of the Portfolio Diet is straightforward. Simply replace certain foods in your diet with other ingredients that have been shown to lower cholesterol levels.
For example, replace meat and dairy with soy protein like tofu, tempeh, soy milk, and soy-based deli meats or burgers.
Instead of using butter, the Portfolio Diet encourages using margarine enriched with plant sterols. Plant sterols are naturally occurring plant compounds shown to reduce your body’s absorption of cholesterol (
Your diet should also include at least one serving of tree nuts per day, such as almonds, walnuts, or pistachios.
Additionally, the Portfolio Diet promotes foods high in soluble fiber. Soluble fiber absorbs water and forms a thick, gel-like substance in your digestive tract. It can improve digestion, lower cholesterol levels, and reduce blood sugar spikes (
Fruits, vegetables, oats, legumes, and flaxseed are a few examples of foods rich in soluble fiber.
Here’s how much of each component you should aim to eat per day:
- Soy protein: 35 grams
- Plant sterols: 2 grams
- Nuts: 1 handful, or about 23 almonds
- Soluble fiber: 18 grams
If you struggle to get enough soluble fiber or plant sterols through your diet, you can consider also taking a psyllium fiber or plant sterol supplement.
The Portfolio Diet encourages you to swap out certain foods in your diet for cholesterol-lowering alternatives.
The Portfolio Diet encourages many foods that can help lower cholesterol levels.
Foods to eat
On this diet, try to eat several servings of foods rich in soluble fiber, plant sterols, and soy protein each day, including nutrient-dense options like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
Here are some examples of foods to eat on the Portfolio Diet:
- Fruits: avocados, pears, apples, oranges, bananas, kiwi, peaches
- Vegetables: okra, eggplant, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, turnips
- Nuts: almonds, walnuts, macadamias, cashews, pistachios
- Seeds: flaxseed, sunflower seeds, chia seeds
- Whole grains: oats, quinoa, brown rice, barley
- Legumes: black beans, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, lima beans
- Soy protein: tofu, tempeh, soy milk, soy cold cuts, soy veggie burgers
- Healthy fats: margarine and vegetable oils enriched with plant sterols
In addition to the foods listed above, the diet encourages the use of certain supplements, including psyllium fiber and plant sterols.
Foods to avoid
The Portfolio Diet doesn’t eliminate any foods from your diet or specify which ingredients to limit. Still, avoiding certain foods may maximize the potential heart health benefits.
Here are some foods to limit or avoid on the Portfolio Diet:
- Processed foods: chips, pretzels, fried foods, convenience meals, french fries, processed meats
- Refined carbs: white pasta, white rice, white bread, tortillas
- Sweets: cookies, cake, candies, baked goods
- Sugar: table sugar, honey, maple syrup, brown sugar
- Beverages: soda, sweet tea, sports drinks, energy drinks
The Portfolio Diet encourages nutrient-dense whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Although there are no guidelines for which foods to avoid, limiting your intake of added sugar and highly processed foods may be beneficial.
All four ingredients encouraged on the Portfolio Diet have been shown to reduce cholesterol:
- Plant sterols. Research suggests that consuming just 1.5–3 grams of plant sterols per day could decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol levels by up to 12% (
- Soluble fiber. Studies show that soluble fiber can reduce levels of total and LDL (bad) cholesterol by 5–10%. This may be due to its ability to decrease the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream (
- Soy. Not only has soy protein been shown to lower cholesterol, but studies show that other compounds found in soy may promote other aspects of heart health (
- Nuts. According to one large review of 61 studies, eating more tree nuts could help reduce levels of total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and triglycerides (
Several studies have found that the Portfolio Diet may decrease cholesterol levels.
For example, one review assessed the effectiveness of the Portfolio Diet and the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Step II diet — a program that limits your intake of fat, saturated fat, and dietary cholesterol (
Combining the two diets decreased LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, inflammation, total cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure — all of which are risk factors for heart disease — more than the NCEP Step II diet alone (
In another study, people with high cholesterol who followed the Portfolio Diet for 6 months experienced significant reductions in both total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels compared with a control group (
Further, a 2005 study found that the Portfolio Diet was as effective as statins — cholesterol-lowering prescription medications — at reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Both methods lowered LDL cholesterol to below 3.4 mmol/L, which is considered a healthy level (
Multiple studies have found that the Portfolio Diet can significantly reduce cholesterol levels and improve several other risk factors for heart disease.
The Portfolio Diet may be hard to follow in some cases, especially if you’re used to eating a lot of processed foods and meat.
Additionally, because it doesn’t have any strict rules or restrictions about which foods you can or can’t eat, it may not be a suitable option if you prefer a more structured eating plan with clear instructions.
Since the diet is only intended to lower your cholesterol levels, consider trying a different plan if you’re also looking to lose weight or improve other aspects of your health.
It’s also not suitable for those with an allergy to soy or tree nuts, since both are key components of the diet.
Furthermore, the diet focuses on which foods you should eat and doesn’t take into account other factors that affect your cholesterol levels, such as getting the right amount of sleep, exercising regularly, and managing your stress levels (9,
Therefore, combining the Portfolio Diet with other healthy habits may be a better way to maximize your results.
This diet is not ideal if you’re looking for clear instructions, have certain food allergies, or are looking to improve other aspects of your health. It focuses only on foods to eat and doesn’t account for other factors that affect cholesterol levels.
Here’s a 3-day sample menu for the Portfolio Diet:
- Breakfast: cereal with soy milk and blueberries
- Lunch: stir-fry with tofu and veggies
- Dinner: soy veggie burger with broccoli and roasted potato wedges
- Snacks: almonds, fruit, and soy yogurt
- Breakfast: oats topped with walnuts, cinnamon, and sliced bananas
- Lunch: sesame tempeh with brown rice and Brussels sprouts
- Dinner: whole grain sandwich with soy deli slices and veggies
- Snacks: edamame hummus with carrots
- Breakfast: smoothie with spinach, fruit, soy milk, and soy protein powder
- Lunch: stuffed peppers with black beans, veggies, and soy crumbles
- Dinner: Buddha bowl with baked tofu, avocados, kale, and sweet potatoes
- Snacks: trail mix with nuts, pumpkin seeds, and dried fruit
The sample menu above offers some ideas for meals, drinks, and snacks to enjoy on the Portfolio Diet.
The Portfolio Diet is a plan designed to help lower your cholesterol levels by adding specific foods to your diet.
Studies show that it may help reduce cholesterol levels and improve other risk factors for heart disease.
However, it may not be a good fit for those who have dietary restrictions, are looking to lose weight, or prefer a more structured diet plan.