Study shows you can improve "bad" cholesterol and fatty acid levels in 4 weeks

Author Chandralekha Mukerji

Our nutritional research project with Fazer BRAINHOW programme, Nokia and the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health found that, with a special diet, people could significantly reduce their "bad" LDL-cholesterol count within just a few weeks. Blood tests showed the diet was also able to reduce "bad" saturated fat levels in the blood.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away... This age-old adage may not be an absolute truth but hints accurately towards how simple dietary habits lead to good health. There are many medical studies proving so. In a nutritional research project, which we carried out in collaboration with Fazer and Nokia, it was found that just a four-week dietary-switch was enough to significantly reduce LDL-cholesterol count in people who had higher levels of it before the intervention. LDL-cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, is often considered “bad” as an excess of it in a person’s blood could clog their arteries and develop into heart diseases in the long run.  

A special diet, specifically designed for this study, increased the intake of “good” polyunsaturated fat, fibre, iron, magnesium and vitamin C and D levels in the people’s food intake. This diet was not only able to reduce the “bad” cholesterol levels but also decrease “bad” saturated fats in the participant’s blood.  

Following the Nordic nutrition recommendations  

The eight-week intervention 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 habitual diet and were given an 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 the usual 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. 

For breakfast, people had a choice between a bowl of whole-grain porridge or muesli. For lunch, depending on the person’s body weight, the target energy content of the meal varied between 600-1000 kcal (see the table for details). The participants also ate an afternoon snack in order to maintain their glycaemic status, that is, their blood sugar levels. The snack options were dark chocolate, fruit salad, nuts or muesli & yoghurt. Also, the participants were given personal nutritional guidance and written dietary instructions to tweak their dinners and make them more healthy keeping in mind the intervention guidelines.

What lunch looked like: 

Total energy intake: 600 -1000 kcal, depending on body weight. 

  • Protein: 15-20% of the total energy intake, from foods such as legumes, poultry and fish. 
  • Total Fats: 25-30% of the total energy intake, including saturated and polyunsaturated fats. 
    Saturated fat: 8-10% of the total energy intake, from foods such as from cheese and butter. 
    Polyunsaturated fat: 8-10% of the total energy intake, from foods such as from plant-based oils, including one spoon oil-based salad dressing. 
  • Fibre: 8-12 g, from foods such as a slice of whole-grain bread like rye or oats.  
  • Saccharose: (sugar) maximum 10% of the total energy intake. 

Special attention was paid to the quality of carbohydrates, proteins and fat intake. For instance, the diet included only whole-grains rich in fibre like oats and rye bread. Fatty fish (at least once a week) and poultry made up the protein content, while plant-based fats were the preferred source of fats.

Results in four weeks 

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

A comparison of 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 was the reduction in their LDL-cholesterol levels. Results also showed favourable changes in their “bad” VLDL-cholesterol levels, as well as “good” fatty acids.  

The results of this study were published to the international research community in the 13th European Nutrition Conference (FENS 2019) in Dublin.  

Follow and track improvements 

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 the 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 the body and helps find a lifestyle that leads to lifelong health.