Vegetarian Diet Can Lower Cholesterol Levels

Maintain healthy cholesterol levels by eliminating saturated fats and adding whole grains, especially quinoa.

Image by Maggie Osterberg via Flickr

Many people go vegetarian to lower their high cholesterol.  How can a vegetarian diet lower cholesterol?  And does it really work?

According to The American Heart Association, high levels of cholesterol are a risk factor for coronary heart disease, the nation’s number one killer. Over 100 million Americans have cholesterol levels that exceed the recommended total and 20 percent of Americans have levels that are considered too high.

Saturated fat comes primarily from foods of animal origin such as dairy products, meat, butter, cheeses, poultry, and luncheon meats. According to the Mayo Clinic, saturated fats raise your total cholesterol, and trans fats, which are sometimes used to make store-bought cookies, crackers and cakes, are particularly bad for your cholesterol levels because they raise the “bad” cholesterol and lower “good” cholesterol.

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It seems that there are two separate issues with cholesterol. Up until recently, it has been widely accepted that saturated fats cause high cholesterol. Recent research suggests that it’s more that certain foods lower cholesterol, and others, like meat and dairy make the body more acidic, and, as Dr. Gabe Mirkin suggests, high cholesterol results from inflammation.

Whether the cholesterol connection is saturated fat or inflammatory (acid forming) foods, it’s clear from the research we’ve seen referenced, that consumption of meat and dairy is associated with high cholesterol, and that a plant based diet – fresh veggies and fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds, beans and lentils – helps to lower cholesterol.

And to confirm that, most studies indicate that vegetarians have lower cholesterol than non-vegetarians.

Quinoa Pilaf

Quinoa Pilaf

Here are some facts about foods that make up a vegetarian diet AND lower cholesterol.

1) Whole grains and oats, especially quinoa, are some of the best foods that lower cholesterol.   A five-year Insulin Resistance Athersclerosis Study showed that people whose diets contain the most whole grains “had the thinnest carotid artery walls and showed the slowest progression in artery wall thickness.”

2) The fats in an avocados and olive oil are heart-healthy, unsaturated fats that can increase your levels of good HDL cholesterol. These good fats also protect against heart disease and diabetes.

3) Nuts keep blood vessels healthy and elastic. The best way to reap the health benefits of nuts is to eat them in replacement of foods that are high in saturated fats such as meat products.  This will also contribute to weight loss.

4) According to the Mayo Clinic, other foods that lower cholesterol include margarines, orange juice and yogurt drinks fortified with plant sterols. These can help reduce bad LDL cholesterol by more than 10 percent. The amount of daily plant sterols needed for results is at least 2 grams or about two 8-ounce (237 milliliters) servings of plant sterol-fortified orange juice a day.

Quinoa Recipe Ebook

Also, try to limit the number of calories you eat daily to less than 10 percent from saturated fats, and eliminate as many trans fats from your diet as possible.  And remember…it’s a lot easier to do this on a vegetarian diet!

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One Response to “Vegetarian Diet Can Lower Cholesterol Levels”

  1. Nick says:

    Just another great reason to be a vegetarian :) and I have to say, none of my vegetarian friends have any cholesterol problems, compared with three of my daily steak chomping buddies.

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