Dietitian Michaël Sels responds. “This is the first diet with a positive approach. Advice? More, more, more.”
The portfolio diet has remained relatively unknown until now. However, it is not new. What is innovative is the way in which it profiles itself, says dietitian Michaël Sels (Antwerp University Hospital). “Many diets focus on risk factors and limiting foods. Less calories, less fat, less salt. Portfolio is the first diet that takes a positive approach. So it doesn’t say what you can or can’t eat.”
“It does say: the healthier you eat, the more healthy effects you will experience. It promotes fiber-rich and plant-based diets, but does not state that you should completely exclude meat.” This formula may well be successful, Sels believes. “Look at what happened in the restaurants of the University in Ghent. They wanted to increase their plant-based offering, but most students continued to choose meat and fish. By not excluding them from a diet, there is less resistance. Otherwise people feel like something is being taken away from them.”
The diet combines a range or ‘portfolio’ of various healthy foods. “The four most important are: vegetable proteins or legumes, plant sterols in the form of vegetable oils and unsaturated fats such as avocado, nuts and seeds, and complex fibers such as oatmeal, eggplant, berries, apples and citrus fruits.” All nutrients with a proven cholesterol-lowering effect and easy to add to your daily diet.
The biggest advantage of the portfolio diet, according to Sels
The portfolio diet reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease by 14 percent, according to a new large-scale and long-term study published in the scientific journal of the American Heart Association. What’s more, the diet has a similar effect to cholesterol-lowering medication, says doctor Andrea Glenn of the University of Toronto.
“Many people take such medication,” says Sels. “Eating more fiber and less animal fats, as the diet recommends, can indeed have a cholesterol-lowering effect. Yet you should never just stop taking such medication,” he says. “First have your blood checked by a doctor when you start the portfolio diet, only then can you reduce the medication if necessary.”
Sels sees another major advantage of the diet: “If you tell a thirty-five-year-old that he will have less risk of cardiovascular disease in two decades if he eats healthier today, he will not get excited about it. The portfolio diet can have that effect. Cardiovascular disease is one of the biggest causes of death in the world. It is a long-term problem. Anyone who does something today will not see that effect tomorrow. We should focus more on prevention.”
Is this diet really better than similar, better-known diets?
The portfolio diet has many similarities to the popular DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet, both of which also promote fiber-rich and plant-based foods. The DASH diet focuses primarily on lowering high blood pressure with fresh produce, whole grains and lean proteins. Fats, sugars and salty foods are prohibited together with alcohol.
Vegetables, fruit and grains play a leading role in the Mediterranean diet. Processed and red meat and highly processed foods are excluded here. The many unsaturated monofatty acids and antioxidants in the Mediterranean diet are said to drastically reduce cardiovascular disease and chronic muscle and joint diseases and improve blood circulation.
Both diets managed to secure the top two spots in the top ten of the most feasible and effective diets for 2023, drawn up by the American U.S. News & Word Report in collaboration with dieticians, scientists, doctors and health experts.
“Yet these diets are not yet applied en masse. The main goal of the portfolio diet is not weight loss, as is the case with the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet. The goal is to lower the ‘bad’ cholesterol in your blood, without banning foods. The portfolio diet is therefore a combination of the two, with more positive communication. I think that will be more popular and people will stick to the diet for longer.”
Before you know it, you will automatically eat less unhealthy food
Dietitian Michaël Sals is a big fan. “Because the focus is on adding more healthy substances to your diet instead of excluding things, there is a displacement effect and a direct effect. This direct effect means that you consume more good things such as fiber, vitamins and minerals. The displacement effect means that you automatically eat less unfavorable things.”
“For example, by putting more legumes or vegetables on your plate, you automatically put less meat on it. Or by adding more lentils to your minced meat recipe, you will get more good substances than if your dish consisted entirely of minced meat. It is also easier and nicer to focus on eating more legumes and vegetables than on eating less meat. For me, that is the power of this diet.”
“It’s a kind of ‘one plus one equals three’ story. By adding more healthy things and removing less beneficial things, you will notice many additional benefits. If you eat more fruit, you will probably eat less sweets and cookies in between meals. So my advice is as simple as that of the diet: more, more, more. And the rest will follow automatically.”
This article previously appeared on HLN.