When it comes to diet and nutrition, medicine is a little like the aged relative who's always the last to get the joke.
Medicine has always maintained that dietary changes can reduce cholesterol levels only by a modest 4%; if you want to get tough with cholesterol, you have to take a statin drug, which some trials have suggested can reduce levels by up to 32%.
Then it occurred to the various health authorities in the USA that some food groups might actually reduce cholesterol levels. Yes, we know nutritionists have been saying this for the last 15 years or more, but it finally dawned on the National Cholesterol Education Program in 2001, and on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2000. Foods such as plant sterols, found in oils, soy protein, viscous fibres such as oats and barley, and almonds could all actively reduce cholesterol, and the diet should be a low-fat one, they said in official announcements.
So when researchers from a hospital in Toronto tested the food groups and diets against the statin, lovastatin, guess what happened? Yes, the diet was as effective as the drug, and reduced cholesterol levels by 28%.
As they say, he who laughs last just didn't get the joke.
(Source: Journal of the American Medical Association, 2003; 290: 501-10).