Can Vegan Diets Reduce Cholesterol
August 11, 2017
One of the benefits of eating a plant based diet is that they are packed full of beneficial nutrients and healthy fats essential for optimising heart health. In this article we look at whether vegan diets reduce cholesterol and provide tips to get started!
What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a type of fat that is carried in the blood but too much of it is a strong risk for coronary heart disease and can damage your arteries. All cells in the body need cholesterol for internal and external membranes, it is also needed to produce some hormones such as oestrogen, testosterone and adrenal hormones, it helps your metabolism work efficiently and produces bile acids which help the body digest fat and absorb important nutrients.
What do the Liproteins do?
Because fats aren’t soluble in water Cholesterol needs little transporters called lipoproteins to transport the cholesterol through the bloodstream. There are two types of lipoproteins in the body:
The Bad Cholesterol: LOW DENSITY LIPOPROTEIN (LDL)
- Causes your arteries become blocked and increase risk of heart disease
- Increased by having saturated fats (animal fats and coconut products)
- LDL cholesterol levels should be <2.0mmol/L1
The Good Cholesterol: HIGH DENSITY LIPOPROTEIN (HDL)
- Our healthy cholesterol – this helps to reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Increased by having plant based fats – mono and poly unsaturated fats
- HDL cholesterol levels should be >1.0mmol/L1
Why is high cholesterol a problem?
The liver is the central hub for processing cholesterol and fats in our diet. When we eat saturated fats and trans fats the liver transports the fats together with the cholesterol in the form of lipoproteins into our bloodstream.
When we have too much cholesterol bound to LDL in our bloodstream, this leads to fatty deposits in the arteries, causing the vessel to narrow and eventually become blocked.
This is why high cholesterol is one of the main risk factors for coronary heart diseases such as heart attacks and angina (chest pain). This means, that if your cholesterol level is 6.5mmol/L or higher, the risk of having heart disease is four times greater than someone with a cholesterol level of 4mmol/L.
What causes high cholesterol?
There are 4 main PREVENTABLE reasons that can affect blood cholesterol:
- Diet: Consuming foods that are high in saturated fat and trans-fats increases your cholesterol levels. Foods with cholesterol in them actually only play a small part in increasing your bad “LDL” cholesterol levels. By reducing the amount of these foods you consume, you can subsequently reduce the amount of cholesterol in your blood.
- Weight: Being overweight is a risk factor for heart disease and cholesterol. Loosing weight can assist in lowering your LDL and total cholesterol levels, increase your HDL cholesterol levels and lower your triglycerides.
- Smoking: tobacco smoking is also a contributing factor to increase your triglyceride levels.
- Exercise: moving your body can reduce your risk of heart disease, so get outside and get active
What Foods Contain Saturated Fats
Saturated fats are one of the main reasons why bad “LDL” cholesterol levels increase. They are found in:
- Full fat dairy products – milk, cheese, yoghurt
- Meat – red meat, chicken (especially the skin)
- Coconut products such as coconut oil, coconut cream
- Processed goods – biscuits, cakes, pastries, chocolate
What Should I Do If I have High Cholesterol?
The best way to lower your LDL (BAD) cholesterol levels is to reduce the amount of SATURATED (BAD) fat you consume.
So here are some easy tips to reduce the cholesterol in your diet:
- Limit cakes, biscuits, pastries
- Choose reduced fat/low fat milk and dairy products such as cheese and yogurt or swap to plant based milk alternatives: soy, rice and almond milks (ensure these have added calcium)
- Increase the amount of fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains you eat each day
- Include foods that are rich in soluble fibre and healthy fats such as nuts, legumes and seeds
- Use polyunsaturated or monounsaturated margarine/oils instead of butter
- Choose lean cuts of meat and remove visible fat, limit fatty meats such as sausage, salami and ham.
- Loose weight if overweight
How Can Vegan Diets Reduce Cholesterol?
It has also been found that oats and legumes can lower LDL cholesterol by five per cent and saponins, a food component found in chickpea and alfalfa sprouts and sulphur compounds, like allicin found in garlic and onions also assist in lowering cholesterol. Plant sterols can also lower cholesterol levels. These are found in foods such as sunflower and canola seeds, vegetable oils, nuts, legumes, cereals, fruits and vegetables.
Want to start eating more plant based? Read our article on the Five Plant Based Core Food Groups
Looking for a dietitian to help with reducing your cholesterol? Meet out our team of expert plant-based health professionals at Plant Nutrition and Wellness.