Ah, cholesterol: the ultimate double-edged sword of bodily substances. It comes in good and bad varieties, is tied to heart health, cell health, and hormonal health, and is a necessary evil that our bodies make on their own. Thus, any added cholesterol is often considered to be a recipe for heart attacks, stroke, and other cardiovascular symptoms. There are many dietary means of decreasing the amount of cholesterol in our bodies, but will a vegan diet lower cholesterol on its own?
Will a vegan diet lower cholesterol?
When done properly, yes, a vegan diet can generally lower one's cholesterol, since plant-based foods do not contain any cholesterol — but that of course depends on the individual. Nevertheless, it's always best to consult a doctor or dietitian before abruptly altering your diet in any way. Well-planned plant-based diets are widely considered healthier than diets heavy in animal products, but your doctor and dietitian can advise you on the best ways to switch to such a diet, rather than just going cold turkey — or tofurkey, as the case may be.
According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), vegan diets have been shown to lower total cholesterol levels. In fact, when compared to omnivorous diets, plant-based diets have come out ahead in more than 49 separate studies. These same studies have shown that eating vegan can lower LDL or “bad cholesterol” by between 15 and 30 percent.
Cholesterol levels are generally measured in terms of milligrams per deciliter. Adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet lowered cholesterol levels in several studies by a factor of 3.6 milligrams per deciliter and 3.4 milligrams per deciliter, respectively.
How does a vegan diet lower cholesterol?
According to PCRM, there are several ways by which a vegan diet might lower cholesterol. Vegan diets tend to be naturally low in fat and high in soluble fiber, which both slows the production of cholesterol in the liver and reduces the absorption of cholesterol from other dietary sources. And seeing that cholesterol is only found in animal-based foods (such as meat, dairy, and eggs), and never found in plant-based foods, vegan diets don't add any additional cholesterol to the party.
What foods lower cholesterol?
Changing your diet isn’t the only answer, of course. Getting regular exercise, lowering your body weight, and reducing your intake of saturated fats can all help in reducing cholesterol. That said, there are plenty of plant-based dietary options that will assist in the reduction of cholesterol.
According to Harvard Medical School, foods like oats, beans, barley, okra, and eggplant are all great sources of LDL-lowering soluble fiber. Soluble fiber affects cholesterol in the bloodstream, preventing the buildup of arterial blockages that often lead to strokes and heart attacks.
Nuts, such as almonds, peanuts, and walnuts are good for lowering LDL and enhancing heart health. Believe it or not, oils and vegan butter can also help lower bad cholesterol. Using things like canola, sunflower, safflower, and margarine as replacements for dairy and lard-based oils can make a huge difference.
Many fruits and vegetables like apples, strawberries, grapes, and citrus fruits offer soluble fiber and a host of vitamins and nutrients without any added cholesterol. Harvard Medical also mentions soybeans, tofu, and soy milk as potential LDL affecters, but it seems as though their effects aren’t nearly as potent as some of the healthier options mentioned above.