Research: A diet that improves "bad" cholesterol and fatty acid levels in just 4 weeks

Author Chandralekha Mukerji

Nightingale’s nutritional research project with Fazer BRAINHOW programme, Nokia and the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health found a special diet can significantly reduce "bad" LDL-cholesterol count within just 4 weeks. Blood tests also showed positive changes in “bad” VLDL-cholesterol levels, as well as “good” fatty acid (omega-3 and omega-6) counts.  

During the four-week intervention period the study participants consumed meals formulated as per the Nordic nutrition recommendations.

Inspired by the Nordic nutrition guidelines 

The eight-week study compared a typical western diet with a special diet. A total of 84 Nokia employees, between 18 to 65 years, participated in this study. All these participants had elevated LDL-cholesterol levels at the beginning of the study. For the first four weeks, they continued their usual diet and were given the option of a typical western lunch consisting of meat, wheat-based low-fibre bread and vegetable oil-butter mixture as a spread. Salad dressings were also typical dairy-based ones.

After that, the participants started a four-week intervention period. During this, they consumed meals formulated as per the Nordic nutrition recommendations. The diet plans were designed keeping in mind the nutrient-richness of the food, regular meal frequency and a balanced intake of polyunsaturated fats, fibre and salt.  

Here’s what breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner looked like. 

Breakfast 

People had a choice between a bowl of whole-grain porridge or muesli.   

Lunch  

Depending on the person’s body weight, the meal's target energy content varied between 600-1000 kcal. Special attention was paid to the quality of carbohydrates, proteins and fat intake. See below how the nutrients looked on the plate.  

  • Carbohydrates: The diet included only whole-grains rich in fibre like oats and rye bread.  
  • Fibre: 8-12 g, came from slices of whole-grain bread like rye or oats.   
  • Protein: 15-20% of the energy intake, from foods such as legumes, poultry and fish. Fatty fish was served at least once a week. Poultry and legumes made up the rest of the protein content. 
  • Fats: Plant-based “good” fats were the preferred source of fats. Fats comprised 25-30% of the total energy intake, including both saturated and polyunsaturated fats.  
    Saturated fat: 8-10% of the total energy intake, from foods such as from cheese and butter.  
    Polyunsaturated “good” fat: 8-10% of the total energy intake, from foods such as from plant-based oils, avocados,
    nuts, including one spoon of oil-based salad dressing.  
  • Sugar: Maximum 10% of the total energy intake.  

Afternoon snack 

To maintain healthy blood sugar levels (glycaemic status), the participants ate an afternoon snack. The snack options were dark chocolate, fruit salad, nuts or muesli & yoghurt.  

Dinner 

Dinner was not provided, and anything was not specified. So, the participants had the freedom to decide for themselves. However, they were given personal nutritional guidance and dietary instructions to tweak their dinners in a way that makes it healthier. These tweaks were in line with the lunch intervention guidelines. 

Your calorie intake sources for the main meals 

Participants showed a significant reduction in their total LDL- and VLDL-cholesterol levels. Results also showed positive changes in their “good” fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6 results.   

Results in four weeks 

The participants were tracking various blood-based health markers — such as cholesterols, ApoB, ApoA1, fatty acids, amino acids, ketone bodies and inflammation markers — to see how the special nutrition plan affected their health.    

Comparing the blood tests done at the beginning and the end of the research project showed a significant reduction in the participants’ total LDL-cholesterol concentration. What’s more? There was a direct relationship between the reduction in LDL-cholesterol levels and how strictly the people followed the nutrition plan. Meaning, the more they abided by the diet, the higher the reduction was in their LDL-cholesterol level. Results also showed favourable changes in their “bad” VLDL-cholesterol levels, as well as “good” fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6.   

Many scientific studies have found that making small changes to a person's everyday habits (like diet, exercise and sleep) could significantly improve their health in a very short period of time.

Follow, track and improve  

The above isn’t the only example of how small lifestyle changes can lead to big health improvements. There are plenty of scientific studies showing how changing other everyday habits like diet, exercise and sleep could improve a person’s metabolic health. This includes heart age and cardiovascular disease risk, blood sugar, diabetes risk, inflammation and more. Tracking these parameters regularly not only gives you a holistic picture of your metabolic health, but regular feedback can help you steer clear of major chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart diseases.     

My Nightingale blood test and app are designed to do exactly that. From a single blood sample, it tracks over 20 health parameters, including the ones mentioned above. It shows how daily life choices affect your body and help you find a lifestyle that leads to lifelong health.