Vegan diets and cholesterol | Vegan Food & Living

Vegan diets and cholesterol

Read Time:   |  26th August 2020

Prevent heart attacks and strokes through your diet

Some vegan-curious people have health concerns about transitioning to a totally plant-based diet – but The Vegan Society is here to help. This month, we’re looking at considerations around cholesterol management for anyone interested in protecting their heart health.

What is cholesterol?

Your liver makes cholesterol, a fatty substance that is found in the membranes of every cell in your body. It is used to make vitamin D, hormones and bile, which helps you to digest fats.

It’s normal to have cholesterol in your blood, but too high a level increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Lifestyle changes can help people to lower and maintain their cholesterol levels.

Wholesome wholegrains

Oats and pearl barley are great choices because they’re rich in beta glucan – a type of fibre that can help to lower cholesterol. Here’s an example of how you might enjoy these foods throughout the day:

  • Start your morning with overnight oats or porridge.
  • Add pearl barley to soup or a casserole.
  • Include oatcakes in a snack.

Other healthful options you can choose also include: wholemeal bread, brown rice, quinoa and wholewheat noodles.

Healthy fats

Although many plant-derived foods are naturally low in saturated fat, there are a few exceptions, including coconut products and palm and shea oils.

Limiting your intake of saturated fat will help you to manage your cholesterol. You can use food labels to compare the amounts in different products and check ingredients. Cooking from scratch is the best way of putting yourself in the driving seat and taking control of your nutrition.

As well as limiting saturated fat, it’s important to include some healthy fats in your meals. This helps with cholesterol management and the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.

Nuts are a great source of unsaturated fat and research suggests that daily consumption is a heart-friendly habit. Peanuts, seeds and avocado are also good sources.

It’s important that vegans consume a really rich source of essential omega-3 fat daily, such as walnuts, ground linseed (flaxseed), chia seeds or hemp seeds. A healthy diet can include small amounts of vegetable and olive oils and vegan margarine too.

Recipes for thriving

As part of our Vegan and Thriving campaign, The Vegan Society has published some helpful recipes at www.vegansociety.com/thriving. Each one is well-balanced, including multiple portions of fruit and vegetables. You can use the nutrition information to compare the amounts of saturated fat per serving.

Professional support

If you need individualised support with making dietary changes relating to cholesterol management, talk to your local healthcare team and consider asking for a referral to a dietitian.

For more vegan-friendly information about nutrition, check out the resources at vegansociety.com/nutrition, including using the free VNutrition app.

Heather Russell is passionate about eating well and keeping fit. She trained to be a dietitian to combine her love of science with a desire to help people, and she loves food! She worked in the NHS from 2010-16, and is now using her dietetic skills to support the work of The Vegan Society. www.vegansociety.com

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