The aim of the present work was to analyse the hypocholesterolaemic efficiency of a Vicia faba-protein isolate in relation to the intact legume. In addition, the mechanisms underlying the effects of this isolate were investigated. Hypercholesterolaemic rats were divided into three groups (n 10×3) and fed high-fat diets rich in cholesterol-containing casein, whole seeds of Vicia faba or the protein isolate of faba beans as protein source, for 2 weeks ad libitum. The protein isolate was prepared by isoelectric precipitation and spray dried. Analyses of serum, liver and faeces, as well as of the activity of hepatic 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl (HMG)-CoA reductase, were assessed by enzymatic methods. The rats fed on Vicia faba diets showed significantly lower body weights and energy intakes than rats fed on casein diets. The whole-seed diet induced a significant reduction in plasma triacylglycerol. Feeding rats on diets containing faba bean seeds, or the protein isolate, induced a significant decrease in plasma (LDL+VLDL)-cholesterol but not in HDL-cholesterol. Hepatic cholesterol and triacylglycerol were also reduced. The hypocholesterolaemic effects of Vicia faba were not the result of a reduction in cholesterol synthesis as assessed from HMG-CoA reductase activity, but the result of an increase in steroid faecal excretion. The faba bean-protein isolate obtained under our experimental conditions was useful in improving the metabolic alterations induced by feeding with a hypercholesterolaemic diet compared with casein. The effectiveness of the whole seeds was higher than that of the protein isolate.