More and more people are going vegetarian and vegan these days. Whether that’s cutting out just meat, meat and fish, or focusing entirely on a plant-based diet, it marks a big change in eating habits.
There are lots of different reasons for going vegetarian or vegan. Many cite animal rights and the environment, but for a lot of people the choice is also about health. Yes, in most cases a vegan diet means avoiding lots of junk foods, and vegetarians can be more likely to eat their daily recommended amounts of veg, but how healthy is a vegetarian diet, and what does this mean for your cholesterol? Here, we tackle the big questions relevant to vegetarians and vegans with high cholesterol as well as looking at ways that cholesterol levels can be well controlled in meat-free diets.
What is a healthy vegetarian diet?
Healthy vegetarian diets are thought to be easy – just fill your plate with vegetables and you’ll be fine. However, the situation is a little more complicated than this. There are definitely vegetarians with high cholesterol. That’s because high levels of (bad) cholesterol can be partly due to the type of fats consumed in your diet, and it’s still possible to eat a diet high in saturated and trans fat even if you’re not eating meat. Cheeses, creams, butter, pastries, biscuits, cake and some processed foods are all vegetarian sources of saturated fat.
Vegans with high cholesterol: What to eat
If vegetarians can have high cholesterol, how about vegans? A lot of the foods that when eaten in large amounts across your diet are likely to increase your (bad) cholesterol levels are eradicated in a vegan diet, but not all. Coconut oil is an example of a plant-based food thought to be healthy, but which actually contains high levels of saturated fat. Also, some people who eat only plant-based foods will be genetically pre-disposed to high cholesterol levels. That means it’s still important to eat a healthy, balanced diet whatever your choices. If you’re wondering about vegan diet and cholesterol, it’s still important to follow the same advice as everyone else: eat a balanced diet with lots of fruit and veg, lean protein, and wholegrains. Check the ingredients list when you purchase food and avoid partially hydrogenated fat or oils (trans fatty acids). Check the labels on food and limit high saturated fat products.
Indeed, as a vegan it’s easy to miss out on vital nutrients, so it’s important to plan your diet well to stay feeling healthy and strong.
It’s also important for vegetarians and vegans (along with everyone else!) to maintain a healthy weight and keep physically active.
Can vegetarians have high cholesterol?
So it’s clear that vegetarians and vegans can have high cholesterol and that just like meat eaters this can often be improved with a healthy, balanced diet. One important thing to consider if you’re worried about cholesterol is fat swaps. Reducing your bad cholesterol and increasing your good cholesterol can be done by swapping out saturated fats for unsaturated ones. That means reducing foods like biscuits, cakes, butter and pastries and opting instead for things like nuts, avocados, spreads made from vegetable oils and lower fat milk.
If you’ve decided to go vegetarian or vegan, it’s easy to feel like you’re allowed to eat anything else you like, but that’s not the case. The trick however to remaining healthy is to still eat a balanced diet whatever your choices. For vegans and vegetarians looking to control their cholesterol levels try some of Flora ProActiv’s healthy range* that can help keep levels down as part of a healthy diet, and if you need a bit of extra support download the Cholesterol Lowering Starter Kit.
* Flora ProActiv contains plant sterols. A daily intake of 1.5 – 2.4g sterols can lower cholesterol by 7 – 10% in 2 – 3 weeks as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle including plenty of fruits and vegetables. High cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease. As coronary heart disease has many risk factors, more than one may need to be improved to reduce overall risk. Individual results may vary.