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An Edina cardiologist is building her case for food as medicine to combat high cholesterol and heart disease.

Dr. Elizabeth Klodas presented data at a recent American Heart Association conference showing that a diet including her Step One line of prepackaged healthy foods could reduce a patient’s LDL and total cholesterol levels within weeks.

The improvements occurred even without medications known as statins, which are widely prescribed and recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

Step One produces prepackaged foods, such as pancake mixes and fruit bars, that are charged with whole fiber, Omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and plant sterols that have been shown to have heart-health benefits.

Klodas said she founded Step One after relying for years on statins to manage her patients’ cholesterol and deciding that she was merely “covering up the downstream effects of poor diet.”

“I could make anybody’s numbers perfect,” she said, “but the thing is, my patients weren’t really feeling better.”

Klodas’ study compared two groups of 54 people as they altered their daily diets to include two Step One items or two comparable foods branded in supermarkets as heart healthy. Four weeks on the Step One diet produced an 8.8 percent drop in LDL cholesterol, on average, and a 5.1 percent drop in total cholesterol, the data showed. The comparison group saw no improvements.

“This is a small change,” Klodas said. “It’s just two substitutions a day. It’s not like you have to become a yoga-practicing vegan.”

Eating Step One foods did not improve HDL cholesterol or blood sugar levels, but Klodas said the short-term results were significant enough to gain credibility and interest from doctors. Some insurers and employers are allowing people to buy Step One foods through health savings or flexible spending accounts, she added.

Klodas’ company helped pay for the study, along with agricultural interests in Manitoba that produce Step One ingredients. But the study included scientists from Mayo Clinic and the University of Manitoba who reported no conflicts of interest.

Poor cholesterol increases the chance of heart attacks and stroke, which is why the preventive task force recommends statins for adults 40 and older with known risk factors for cardiovascular diseases.

Statins are useful, but doctors should consider alternatives, especially for patients who don’t tolerate the drugs, Klodas said. “I’m not anti-drug. It’s just that drugs are an incomplete solution.”

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744 • @stribjo