You’ve heard it before: high cholesterol is bad for your heart. As cholesterol levels rise, so does your risk of heart disease and stroke. The good news is a vegan diet lower cholesterol can improve your heart health. By cutting out all animal products like meat, eggs, and dairy, a plant-based vegan diet is naturally low in cholesterol and saturated fat—two of the biggest culprits that cause high cholesterol. Within just a few weeks of switching to a vegan diet, you can start to see your cholesterol numbers drop. You’ll be protecting your heart and reducing your risk of disease, all while enjoying delicious plant-based meals. If you’re looking for a diet that can really move the needle on your cholesterol and long-term health, going vegan may be one of the best steps you can take. Here’s everything you need to know to get started.
How a Vegan Diet Can Lower Your Cholesterol
A vegan diet can significantly lower your cholesterol levels. By avoiding all animal products, you eliminate major sources of saturated fat and cholesterol from your diet.
Cut out meat, eggs and dairy
The biggest changes will be removing meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy products like milk, cheese, and butter. These foods are the primary sources of cholesterol and saturated fat in most diets.
Eat more plant-based foods
Focus on eating more plant-based foods like:
- Beans, lentils, and tofu – These provide protein and fiber without the cholesterol.
- Nuts and seeds – Almonds, walnuts, and flax seeds contain healthy fats that can help lower cholesterol.
- Whole grains – Choose oats, brown rice, quinoa, and barley which are high in fiber.
- Vegetables – Aim for 5 to 9 servings a day of things like broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, and avocados.
- Fruits – Berries, citrus fruits, and bananas are great options with no cholesterol.
Lose excess weight
Losing weight can also help lower your cholesterol. A vegan diet tends to be low in calories, so you may find weight loss happening naturally. But staying physically active, watching portion sizes, and making healthy swaps can help speed the process along.
By following a well-planned vegan diet with lots of whole foods, losing excess weight, and exercising, you can successfully reduce your cholesterol levels and improve your heart health in as little as 6 weeks to 3 months. Keep working at it and reap the benefits of a lifelong commitment to a vegan lifestyle!
Foods to Eat on a Vegan Diet Lower Cholesterol
To lower your cholesterol on a vegan diet, focus on eating more of these cholesterol-busting foods:
Whole grains like oats, brown rice, and quinoa. Fiber-rich whole grains help reduce LDL or “bad” cholesterol. Aim for 6-11 servings per day.
Beans, lentils, and legumes. Things like chickpeas, black beans, and lentils are high in protein and soluble fiber which can help lower cholesterol. Have 2-3 servings per week.
Nuts and seeds. Almonds, walnuts, flax seeds and chia seeds contain healthy fats that can help reduce inflammation and lower cholesterol. Enjoy 1-2 ounces, 4-5 times per week.
Avocados. The monounsaturated fats in avocados can help lower LDL cholesterol. Mash half an avocado on your toast, in a salad, or in a smoothie.
Plant-based protein sources. Tofu, tempeh and plant-based meat alternatives contain compounds called isoflavones that may help lower cholesterol. Aim for 3-5 ounces, 3 times per week.
Leafy green vegetables. Spinach, kale, Swiss chard and collard greens are high in cholesterol-lowering compounds like lutein and zeaxanthin. Have at least 2 cups per week.
Fruits high in pectin. Citrus fruits, berries, and stone fruits contain pectin, a type of fiber that can help lower cholesterol. Enjoy 2-3 servings per day.
Healthy fats. Olive oil, coconut oil and vegetable oils provide cholesterol-friendly fats. Use for cooking and dressings. Limit to 2-3 tablespoons per day.
With a balanced vegan diet full of these foods, you’ll be well on your way to lowering your cholesterol the natural way. Stick with it and you’ll reap the heart-healthy benefits for life!
Foods to Avoid on a Vegan Diet for Lower Cholesterol
To lower your cholesterol on a vegan diet, there are certain foods you’ll want to avoid. These include:
Saturated Fats and Trans Fats
Saturated fats and trans fats can raise cholesterol levels and should be limited. This means steering clear of foods like:
- Coconut oil, palm kernel oil and palm oil which are high in saturated fat. Opt for plant-based oils low in saturated fat like olive, sunflower or safflower oil instead.
- Margarine and shortening which contain trans fats. Choose trans fat-free vegan butters or make your own from plant-based oils.
- Fried foods as frying oils are often high in saturated fat and trans fats. Bake, grill, roast or steam foods instead.
Full-Fat Dairy Alternatives
While dairy products are not part of a vegan diet, full-fat vegan alternatives to foods like cheese, ice cream and creamer should still be limited. These plant-based versions get a lot of their creamy texture from coconut milk and oils which are high in saturated fat. Choose low-fat or fat-free vegan dairy alternatives when possible, or have these treats in moderation.
Processed Vegan Meats
Some vegan meat alternatives like veggie dogs, burgers and bacon are highly processed and may contain coconut oil or palm oil to achieve a meaty texture. Check the nutrition labels and avoid or limit versions high in saturated fat, opting for plant-based protein sources like tofu, beans, lentils and nuts instead.
Many packaged vegan snacks are more like junk food than health food. They tend to be high in added sugar, salt, refined grains and bad fats that can negatively impact cholesterol. Choose whole plant foods for snacks like fruit, vegetables, hummus and guacamole with veggie sticks or whole grain crackers. Limit vegan chips, cookies, candies and other packaged snack foods.
Following a balanced vegan diet focused on whole plant foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds is the best way to lower your cholesterol. Limiting or avoiding the foods mentioned above will help you achieve healthy cholesterol levels the vegan way.
Sample Meal Plan for a Vegan Diet Lower Cholesterol
A vegan diet can significantly lower your cholesterol when done right. Here’s a suggested meal plan to get you started:
For breakfast, have a bowl of oatmeal with plant-based milk, like almond or soy milk. Top it with fresh fruit, nuts, and a drizzle of maple syrup. Oats contain beta-glucan, a type of fiber that can help lower cholesterol.
For lunch, have a hearty salad with lots of veggies, beans or lentils, and a plant-based protein like tofu. Fill your salad with cholesterol-lowering foods like spinach, kale, broccoli, carrots, beans, and lentils. Add a healthy plant-based dressing like balsamic vinaigrette.
Have a snack of hummus and veggie sticks, a handful of nuts, or fresh fruit with nut butter. These options contain healthy fats, fiber and plant sterols that can help lower cholesterol.
For dinner, try a stir fry with lots of veggies and tofu over rice or quinoa. You can also have veggie fajitas with guacamole, or a hearty chili made with lots of beans and veggies. Focus on plant-based sources of protein, and load up on vegetables, fruits and whole grains at each meal.
Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and unsweetened beverages like tea, coffee, and plant-based milk. Limit or avoid sugary drinks, alcohol and high cholesterol options like dairy milk and orange juice.
Following a balanced vegan diet low in saturated fat and high in plant-based foods is key to lowering your cholesterol. Focus on fiber-filled whole plant foods at each meal, watch your portion sizes, and stay active to maximize the cholesterol-lowering effects. Making healthy lifestyle changes can help bring your cholesterol to a normal range and lower your risk of heart disease.
Tips for Sticking to a Vegan Diet
Sticking to a vegan diet long-term takes commitment, but with some helpful tips you can make it a sustainable lifestyle change.
Meal plan and prep
Planning your meals ahead of time is key. Sit down on the weekend and map out your meals for the week, making a grocery list so you have all the ingredients on hand. Do some bulk cooking like making a pot of chili, rice and beans, or veggie soup to have for lunches or quick dinners. Chop up veggies and fruits so they’re ready to grab for snacks. The more you plan and prep, the less likely you are to be caught hungry without good vegan options.
Find staples you love
Discover vegan staples that you genuinely enjoy and keep them on hand. Things like nut butters, avocados, hummus, oats, and plant-based milks are versatile basics to build meals around. Experiment with meat substitutes like tofu, tempeh, and seitan to find ones you like. The more you enjoy the foods you’re eating, the easier it will be to stay committed long-term.
Eat a balanced diet
A balanced vegan diet should include protein sources, healthy fats, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Aim for eating a variety of foods from each group every day to ensure you get all the nutrients you need. Some examples:
•Proteins: lentils, nuts, seeds, beans, tofu
•Fats: avocados, nut butters, olive oil
•Whole grains: oats, rice, quinoa, barley
•Fruits & veggies: all colors of the rainbow!
Supplement when needed
Some nutrients like vitamin B12, calcium, iron and omega-3 fatty acids may be lacking in a vegan diet. Talk to your doctor about supplementing when needed. A basic multivitamin can help address any gaps.
Find your support system
Connect with other vegans for tips, recipes, and motivation. Join an online community or see if there’s a local vegan meetup group in your area. Don’t be afraid to tell family and friends about your choice so they can support you. The more support you have, the easier your vegan journey will be.
Staying vegan for the long run is absolutely possible if you set yourself up for success. Meal prep, discover staples you love, eat balanced nutritious meals, supplement when needed, and find your support tribe. You’ve got this! Focus on all the benefits to yourself and the planet to keep yourself motivated for the long haul.
Additional Lifestyle Changes to Lower Your Cholesterol
To get the most out of your vegan diet for lowering cholesterol, incorporate these additional lifestyle changes:
Aim for at least 30 to 60 minutes of exercise most days of the week. Walking, jogging, biking and strength training are all great options. Exercise helps lower cholesterol levels and also keeps your weight in check. Losing excess pounds can help reduce your LDL or “bad” cholesterol.
Manage Your Stress
Too much stress can negatively impact your cholesterol levels. Try relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and journaling. Limit stressful activities when you can and make sure to schedule in time for hobbies and social interaction. Reducing stress will benefit your health in many ways.
While a glass of red wine may be good for the heart in moderation, too much alcohol can raise triglycerides and cholesterol levels. Limit your alcohol consumption to no more than one drink per day for women and two per day for men. Better yet, avoid it altogether during the week and save it for the weekends.
Smoking is terrible for your cholesterol and heart health. Make quitting a priority. Talk to your doctor about ways to kick the habit for good. Your cholesterol levels will significantly improve within a year of quitting.
Monitor Your Levels
Get your cholesterol levels checked regularly through a simple blood test. Most doctors recommend getting tested at least once every 5 years for healthy person of mature age. More frequent testing may be needed if you have high cholesterol or other heart disease risks. Be proactive and make necessary lifestyle changes to keep your cholesterol in a healthy range.
Making healthy changes to your lifestyle along with adopting a vegan diet is the most effective way to lower your cholesterol long-term. Be patient and consistent, as it can take several months of commitment to significantly improve your numbers. But by sticking with it, you’ll reap the rewards of better health for life.
Potential Challenges of a Vegan Diet
A vegan diet can significantly lower your cholesterol, but it does come with some potential challenges you should be aware of.
Since a vegan diet eliminates all animal products, some key nutrients like protein, iron, calcium, zinc, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids may be lacking. You’ll need to make an extra effort to consume plant-based sources of these nutrients, such as beans, lentils, tofu, nuts, and seeds. You may also want to consider taking certain supplements to address any deficiencies.
Difficulty when dining out
Eating at restaurants can be tricky when you’re following a vegan diet. Many menus are not vegan-friendly, so you’ll need to do some research in advance or ask your server about options. Some cuisines, like Italian, Indian, Thai and Mexican, typically offer more vegan choices. Don’t be afraid to make special requests to have dishes made vegan. Many places are accommodating, you just have to ask.
May need to adjust cooking methods
Preparing meals at home will be easier since you control what goes into your food. However, you may need to learn new cooking techniques and vegan recipes to replace old favorites. Roasting, steaming, and stir-frying are all great methods for cooking plant-based proteins and vegetables. There are also vegan versions of creamy sauces, egg substitutes for baking, and plant-based meat alternatives available. With some experimenting in the kitchen, you’ll be making delicious vegan meals in no time.
Switching from an omnivorous diet to a vegan one can be an adjustment. You may experience issues like fatigue, irritability, and cravings as your body gets used to the change. These symptoms are temporary, but staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, and consuming healthy fats and proteins can help ease the transition. Most people feel significantly better within a few weeks of going vegan.
While veganism may require putting in some extra work, the benefits to your health and conscience can make it worthwhile. Approach the diet with an open and willing mindset, learn from your experiences, and don’t be afraid to ask others for support and advice. With time, eating vegan can become second nature.
Supplements to Support a Vegan Diet for Lower Cholesterol
To ensure you get all the nutrients you need on a vegan diet for lowering your cholesterol, certain supplements may be beneficial.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3s help reduce inflammation in the body and lower cholesterol levels. Since omega-3s are mostly found in fish, vegans need to get them from plant-based sources like chia seeds, flax seeds, and walnuts or take an algae-based supplement. Aim for 1-2 tablespoons of chia or ground flax seeds per day or 2,000 to 3,000 mg of an algae omega-3 supplement.
Vitamin B12 is essential for red blood cell formation and DNA synthesis. Since it’s mainly found in animal foods, vegans are at risk of B12 deficiency. Take a B12 supplement of at least 25 to 100 mcg per day or 1,000 mcg twice a week. Nutritional yeast, also known as nooch, is also fortified with vitamin B12. Add 2 tablespoons to foods like pasta, salads, and avocado toast.
Calcium helps maintain bone health and normal blood pressure. While leafy greens and beans contain calcium, the amounts may not meet your daily needs. Take a calcium citrate supplement with vitamin D of 600 to 1000 mg per day. Also, try drinking fortified plant milks with 120 mg of calcium per serving and eating more kale, broccoli, and bok choy.
Iron deficiency can lead to anemia. Vegan sources of iron include legumes, nuts, and seeds. However, the iron from plants is hard for your body to absorb. Take an iron supplement of 8 to 18 mg per day with foods high in vitamin C like citrus fruits which help with iron absorption. You can also cook foods in a cast iron skillet which adds more iron to your diet.
Zinc plays a key role in immune function, cell growth, and wound healing. Vegan sources include cashews, oats, nutritional yeast, and legumes. Aim for 8 to 13 mg of zinc per day from foods or take a supplement. Zinc supplements can cause nausea, so take them with meals.
By following a balanced vegan diet and supplementing when needed, you can successfully lower your cholesterol without compromising your health or nutrition. Be sure to talk to your doctor about appropriate supplement doses based on your individual needs.
FAQ: Answering Common Questions About a Vegan Diet and Lowering Cholesterol
A vegan diet can significantly lower your cholesterol, but you probably have some questions about how it all works. Here are answers to some of the most common questions about going vegan to improve your cholesterol levels:
Do I have to go 100% vegan to lower my cholesterol?
Not necessarily. While a fully vegan diet eliminates all animal products and is very effective for lowering cholesterol, a plant-based diet with limited animal products can also help. The key is focusing on plant-based whole foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. Limit meat, dairy, and eggs as much as possible. Even reducing animal product consumption by half can make a difference.
What kinds of foods should I eat?
Eat a variety of plant-based foods like:
- Beans, lentils, and tofu – Excellent sources of protein and fiber.
- Oats and barley – High in beta-glucans which help lower cholesterol.
- Nuts – Almonds, walnuts, and pistachios contain healthy fats that improve cholesterol.
- Avocados – Creamy fruit high in monounsaturated fats that lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.
- Flax and chia seeds – Rich in omega-3 fatty acids which decrease inflammation and lower cholesterol.
- Berries – Antioxidants in berries improve cholesterol levels and heart health.
- Cruciferous veggies – Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale and cabbage help lower cholesterol.
Will I get enough protein?
It is easy to get enough protein on a vegan diet from plant-based sources like beans, lentils, tofu, seitan, nuts, and seeds. Aim for 5 to 6 ounces of these foods each day. Your cholesterol will decrease and you’ll feel satisfied.
Do I need to take any supplements?
You may want to consider taking a few supplements, such as:
- Vitamin B12 – Important for blood and nerve health. Found mostly in animal foods so vegans often need to supplement.
- Omega-3 fatty acids – Help lower cholesterol and reduce heart disease risk. Flax and chia seeds contain omega-3s, or you can take an algal oil supplement.
- Vitamin D – Important for bone and immune health and hard to get enough of from food alone. Especially important for vegans.
While going vegan may seem challenging, the rewards to your health and cholesterol levels make it worth the effort. Focus on eating a balanced diet based on whole plant foods, stay hydrated, limit processed junk, and consider a few basic supplements. Your heart and body will thank you.
So there you have it, the keys to lowering your cholesterol through a vegan diet. By focusing on plant-based whole foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds, you’ll avoid cholesterol-raising animal products and reap the benefits of fiber, healthy fats, and cholesterol-lowering compounds. It may seem like a big change, but going vegan can be easier than you think, especially if you start with a few simple swaps each week. Before you know it, you’ll be cruising the produce aisle like a pro and wondering why you didn’t go vegan sooner. Your heart and body will thank you, and you’ll feel good knowing you’re doing something great for your health and the planet. The power to lower your cholesterol is on your plate!