A new study shows a vegetarian version of the Atkins low-carbohydrate diet may help people lose weight and lower levels of bad (or LDL) cholesterol in the blood.

The traditional Atkins diet consists of low carbohydrate foods and a high intake of animal protein. Although studies to date have shown the traditional Atkins diet may produce modest weight loss, these studies have not demonstrated a reduction in the major heart disease risk factor, LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels, according to St. Louis-based Solae LLC.

Researchers from St. Michael’s Hospital and the University of Toronto in collaboration with researchers from Solae published the first ever study to look at the effect of a modified version of the Atkins diet on both weight loss and heart disease risk factors, according to the company.

The study, which is published in the current issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, looked at weight loss and heart disease risk factors of subjects who followed a diet low in carbohydrates, but high in vegetable proteins that included soy.

Forty-seven overweight men and women with elevated blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels were given either a low-carbohydrate diet where the protein came from vegetable sources including soy, or a high-carbohydrate, low-fat, lacto-ovo vegetarian diet for four weeks.

Calorie restriction was similar for both groups. There was similar weight loss and lowered blood pressure in both groups. However, the low-carbohydrate, higher protein diet group also saw significant reductions in LDL cholesterol and other heart disease risk factors like apolipoproteins, blood triglyceride levels and blood pressure.

Results indicated that participants who ate a low-calorie, low-carbohydrate diet high in plant-based proteins, oils and fiber, lost weight and experienced improvements in blood cholesterol levels and other heart disease risk factors, the company reports. These findings suggest that a version of the Atkins weight-loss diet that stresses plant proteins is better than a high-carbohydrate, weight-loss diet at reducing risk factors of heart disease, Solae notes.

Numerous studies show that soy intakes may be associated with a lower incidence of certain chronic diseases, notably heart disease. These findings led to the authorization of a health claim for soy protein and heart disease risk by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in 1999, according to Solae. The FDA-authorized health claim helps promote the daily consumption of 25 g. of soy for lowering cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of heart disease.

“While total calories are important for weight loss, a plant-based diet that includes soy instead of animal-base provides additional benefits that may reduce the risk of heart disease,” says Dr. Greg Paul, sports nutrition expert at Solae and an author of the study. “These findings build on the body of evidence for the role of soy protein in lowering heart disease risk.”

Editor’s Note: Solae provided information for this article. For more information, visit www.solae.com.