Health $ Lifestyle

Is the ‘portfolio diet’ all it’s cracked up to be? We asked the experts

  • The portfolio diet has made headlines for slashing the risk of heart disease
  • Dietitians told there is nothing unique about the plan 
  • READ MORE: ‘Portfolio diet’ is the silver bullet for health, top cardiologists say

Researchers have lauded a new diet as a ‘silver bullet’ for heart health, but is it really all it’s cracked up to be?

The portfolio diet, created by Harvard University scientists, is comprised of cholesterol-lowering foods like whole grains, healthy fats, vegetables, and plant-based proteins.  

A study of more than 210,000 healthcare professionals found that over the course of 30 years, participants had a 14 percent lower risk of heart disease and stroke

The portfolio diet has been endorsed by the American Heart Association (AHA), with the organization urging: ‘We need to get the word out.’

Much like diversifying a stock portfolio with different promising investments, the ‘portfolio diet’ involves incorporating various healthy dietary patterns together. 

However, dietitians said that the portfolio diet is indistinguishable from more well-backed plans like the Mediterranean, DASH, and MIND diets, and that promoting yet another buzzword-filled diet confuses consumers. 

The portfolio diet prioritizes plant-based protein, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts

The portfolio diet prioritizes plant-based protein, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts

Dietitians told that the portfolio diet is no different than basic healthy eating and creates confusion among consumers

Dietitians told that the portfolio diet is no different than basic healthy eating and creates confusion among consumers

Laura Silver, registered dietitian and founder of Silver Street Nutrition in New York City, told ‘This is not all that different from everything else. It’s just a new name for a new diet that’s kind of the same.’ 

‘It doesn’t seem like there’s really anything particularly unique here.’ 

The portfolio diet prioritizes whole grains and healthy fats, much like the Mediterranean diet, but is more plant-forward and discourages animal proteins more than other plans. 

It isn’t designed for weight loss. Rather, its main goal is heart health, similar to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, which aims to reduce high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. 

Harvard researchers found that people who followed the diet for 30 years had a 14 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease and strokes compared to people on a standard diet. 

The authors published their findings in the AHA journal Circulation, signaling that the preeminent heart health organization endorses the diet plan as a highly effective way to prevent cardiovascular disorders. 

Dr Kristina Petersen, a nutrition expert at Penn State University who co-authored last spring’s AHA statement scoring 10 popular diets for their heart-health benefits, said: ‘It’s not an all-or-nothing approach. You can take your own diet and make a few small changes and see cardiovascular benefits.’

‘We need to get the word out.’

The portfolio diet emphasizes many of the same foods as other popular eating plans like DASH and the Mediterranean diet. 

The DASH diet, for example, is specifically targeted at lowering the risk of hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. 

The plan recommends vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fatty fish, lean meat, beans and lentils, nuts, and vegetable oils, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). 

The goal is to reduce the amount of cholesterol- and sodium-heavy foods, which have been shown to increase blood pressure and lead to a greater chance of heart disease and stroke. 

Similarly, the Mediterranean diet also involves largely shunning dairy, red meat and alcohol, while tucking into oily fish, nuts, seeds and pulses.

Dr Carolyn Williams, registered dietitian and co-host of the Happy Eating podcast, told that these are all foods in a basic healthy diet, and adding another diet that is so similar to a regular balanced meal plan can be confusing to consumers.

‘I feel like they’re just repackaging a healthy eating plan,’ she said. ‘It’s nothing different because we’ve known all these things.’   

‘I think it adds confusion, which is never good. We’ve already got a ton of confusion in the nutrition and diet world.’

One of the portfolio diet’s main tenets is eating more plant-based proteins rather than red meat, chicken, or fish, the latter two of which are staples in diets like Mediterranean and DASH. 

‘There is a relationship with being vegan or vegetarian with better health and better heart health, but we actually don’t really know if that benefit is coming from eating less meat or more plants, or some combination of the two,’ Ms Silver said. 

‘It’s not realistic for everyone to become vegan or vegetarian, nor do I think everyone needs to, to benefit their health. I think better messaging is “eat more plants” rather than “eat less animals.”‘ 

‘Eat a balanced variety of foods consistently throughout the day. Don’t make it too complicated.’

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