Have you heard of the portfolio diet? The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends this lesser-known dietary approach to lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.

For those who are new to the concept, a portfolio diet is a nutritional strategy that focuses on reducing LDL (low-density lipoprotein), or "bad" cholesterol, a leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

The diet plan includes a set of foods or food components associated with cholesterol-lowering effects, just like diversifying your investment portfolio to minimize risk. It incorporates plant-based proteins such as soy and other legumes to substitute meat; foods with sticky fiber such as oats, barley, berries, apples and citrus fruit; plant sterol supplements and enriched margarine instead of normal butter and margarine; nuts such as almonds, avocado and healthy plant-based oils high in monounsaturated fat.

In a study published in the AHA journal Circulation, those who followed the portfolio diet had a 14% lower risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke compared to the others.

A total of 210,240 people enrolled in long-term health studies between the mid-1980s to early 1990s were evaluated. The participants did not have cardiovascular disease at the beginning of the study. They answered food questionnaires every four years and were followed up for 30 years.

The research team ranked the participants positively for including plant protein (legumes), nuts and seeds, viscous fiber sources, phytosterols, and plant monounsaturated fat sources in their diet and negatively for consuming food high in saturated fat and cholesterol.

"Through this research, we found that the portfolio diet score was consistently associated with a lower risk of both heart disease and stroke, highlighting an opportunity for people to lower their heart disease risk through consuming more of these foods recommended in the diet," study lead author Dr. Andrea Glenn, a registered dietitian, said in a news release.

"We're always looking at ways to reduce the risk of heart disease, and one effective way to do that is to lower blood cholesterol levels, particularly LDL cholesterol," said Dr. Kristina Petersen, an associate professor of nutritional sciences at Penn State in University Park, Pennsylvania.

"It's not an all-or-nothing approach. You can take your own diet and make a few small changes and see cardiovascular benefits. You also do not have to follow it as a strict vegan or vegetarian diet to see benefits, but the more of the foods (from the portfolio diet) that you eat, the greater your heart disease risk protection, as we saw in the current study. We need to get the word out," added Petersen, who was not involved in the study.