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University of Exeter study finds swapping meat for Quorn products could play a key role in cholesterol management and improving heart health

February 29, 2024

Regularly substituting meat for Quorn could help to lower bad cholesterol at a rate comparable to what might be expected from more wholesale dietary changes, such as following a Mediterranean or vegan diet, according to the findings of a new study by scientists at the University of Exeter.

Published in Clinical Nutrition, the remotely delivered study involved 72 overweight adults with high cholesterol levels. Researchers found that participants who ate 180g of Quorn products on a daily basis – equivalent to two servings of Quorn mince – saw a 10% reduction in ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol over the four-week study period. This equates to a 0.3 millimole per liter (mmol/l) decrease in bad cholesterol levels in less than one month – just by making the simple swap of meat to Quorn.

To put this reduction over a four-week period into perspective, a wealth of research has shown how more wholesale healthy dietary changes, such as switching to a Mediterranean or vegan diet, will typically deliver a 0.2-O.3mmol/l reduction in bad cholesterol levels after 12 weeks.

Researchers at the University of Exeter also noted that typical doses of atorvastatin, the most popular statin prescribed by the NHS to treat high cholesterol, commonly yield a 0.3 – 1.3mmol/l reduction after 12 months.

According to medical research, a decrease of 0.39 /l in bad cholesterol levels is associated with a 25% lower lifetime risk of heart and circulatory disease. With pharmaceutical trials suggesting that reductions increase in a linear way over time, the researchers suggested further studies should be undertaken to see if the results improve even further when Quorn is eaten over a longer period.

The findings are significant as, while Mediterranean and vegan diets are proven to be effective in lowering cholesterol, research shows that making such wholesale dietary changes can be difficult due to a wide range of factors – including higher costs of ingredients, unfamiliarity of foods and the reduced availability of specialist products. The researchers concluded that dietary substitutions that are easy to implement – like swapping meat for Quorn – are likely to be more attractive to the public. The researchers said that the new study demonstrates how Quorn products can play an important role in cholesterol management, as a high-fiber, low in saturated fat food source that’s widely available.

The study – which saw half of the participants (39) given meat and fish products to eat on a daily basis as part of their regular diet, while the other half (33) were provided with Quorn products – also revealed further heart health benefits.

High blood sugar levels and c-peptide concentrations are commonly associated with diabetes⁷ and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality. The researchers found that study participants who ate Quorn products experienced, on average, a 13% drop in blood glucose levels and a 27% fall in c-peptide concentrations, compared with the control group. With current data showing that 2.4 million people are at an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes in the UK based on high blood sugar levels, these findings demonstrate how mycoprotein – the high protein, high-fiber food source that’s the main ingredient in Quorn - could also play a key role in tackling a disease that currently costs an estimated £14 billion a year to treat.

The findings come after the latest annual Health Survey for England estimated that well over half (59%) of adults suffer from raised cholesterol and one in 10 from diabetes, with both conditions known to cause cardiovascular disease – meaning millions of people could be at risk of a potentially fatal heart attack or stroke.

High cholesterol is thought to be caused by diets high in saturated fat, carrying excess waist fat, not exercising enough and smoking, and is described, alongside high blood sugar levels, as one of the silent killers that are often symptomless and only identified through a medical emergency. Quorn mycoprotein is not only low in saturated fat, it is also high in fiber, particularly a fiber called beta-glucan that’s common in foods like oats and barley, and it’s thought that the fermentation of this fibre in the intestines creates short-chain fatty acids which may reduce the amount of cholesterol produced by the body.

Dr George Pavis, Postdoctoral Researcher at University of Exeter

Commenting on the findings, Dr George Pavis, who led the study for the University of Exeter, said: “We’re really excited about these results and what they mean for public health. Previous laboratory studies, where all food eaten is controlled and alcohol and caffeine consumption regulated, have clearly shown that daily consumption of mycoprotein reduces bad cholesterol, but this is the first study of its kind to explore the impact of such a dietary intervention in a real-world, home-based setting where participants were not restricted in terms of what else they consumed or did.

“The findings demonstrate that introducing Quorn foods into a diet on a regular basis helps to significantly lower bad cholesterol, blood glucose and c-peptide concentrations, which is important for boosting heart health and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

“It was particularly interesting to see the scale of the impact that Quorn consumption had in terms of reducing harmful cholesterol, with its performance over four weeks comparable to what we might expect to see from well-established approaches, such as following a Mediterranean diet.”

“The potential cholesterol-lowering effects of Quorn’s mycoprotein were first identified nearly four decades ago and, since then, numerous studies have helped us to understand more about the extent of its cholesterol management capabilities, with its high-fiber content thought to play a key role in this," said Sam Blunt, Quorn’s Director of Sustainability & Corporate Affairs. “While the benefits of adopting a Mediterranean diet are clear, it’s not always easy to do and this study highlights how, by simply introducing Quorn products into their diet on a regular basis, people may be able to quickly reduce their cholesterol levels and improve their heart health with minimal effort."

The study, entitled A four-week dietary intervention with mycoprotein-containing food products reduces serum cholesterol concentrations in community-dwelling, overweight adults: a randomised controlled trial is published in Clinical Nutrition journal.

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