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High Cholesterol? Try Going Vegetarian!

Did you know that vegetarians generally live longer and are less likely to have heart disease or other ailments, including a lower risk for cancer?1 If you are struggling to lower your cholesterol, the answer may lie in what you eat.

Fad or fact?

Filmmaker, actor and comic book writer Kevin Smith credits a plant-based diet with his significant weight-loss after suffering a heart attack. Reality TV star Kelly Osborne credits her vegan diet for her 30-pound weight loss. Hollywood producer James Cameron is so convinced of the benefits of a plants-only diet that he produced a feature-length film featuring vegan Olympic athletes and bodybuilders to show the impact of a vegan diet from both a personal and global perspective.

Far from just Hollywood hype, the benefits of a plant-based diet are well-documented, from lowering the risk of heart disease to a substantially lower type 2 diabetes risk.2 In fact, a recent review of 49 observational and controlled studies found that vegetarian diets are associated with lower levels of total cholesterol, including lower levels of HDL and LDL cholesterol. This was especially true of vegan diets.3

A low fat vs. plant-based diet

We know what you’re thinking – “I can’t give up meat, I’ll just cut back on fat and calories.”

In the studies, vegetarians fared better than people who simply cut back on calories and ate a variety of foods that were low in fat. They also did better at lowering cholesterol than those on a conventional diabetes diet.3

So, what exactly is it about a vegetarian diet? The verdict is still out on that although studies suggest it is not merely about giving up meat:

  • Those who eat plant-based diets often weigh less.
  • Vegetarians tend to eat less saturated fat and more foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and whole grains that are rich in substances known to reduce cholesterol, such as soluble fiber and plant sterols.1
  • Foods from soybeans, a plant-based source of protein, may help lower “bad” cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein (LDL).4

Not all plant-based diets are equal

While plant-based diets are recommended to reduce the risk of heart-related issues, not all diets are created equal. Some could, in fact, increase your risk for heart disease.

An unhealthful plant-based diet would include the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and less healthy foods such as refined grains and potatoes. If you are considering adopting a plant-based diet, make sure it is comprised of whole grains, unsaturated fats and a wealth of fruits and vegetables.

Not there yet?

Not quite ready to jump headlong into a veggie-only diet? You can still reap health benefits by making tweaks to your current diet. Reduce the portions of meat on your plate and increase the vegetables. Replace sugar-sweetened desserts with fresh fruit. Add olive oil and foods high in monounsaturated fatty acids, such as avocados, to salads and sandwiches. And instead of dipping high-fat chips into your guacamole, try veggies instead.5

You could even add meatless days to your weekly menu – start with one, then add another, and another. Or try eating a plant-based diet every other day or perhaps on weekdays. Simply by adding more plants to your diet, you can lower your cholesterol and boost your health.1 You may soon realize you don’t even miss the meat!

We’re here to help

If you have been prescribed medication by your physician to control your cholesterol and have questions or concerns, your Health Mart pharmacist is always available to help!

Health Mart. Caring for you and about you. 

Nothing herein constitutes medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, or is a substitute for professional advice. You should always seek the advice of your physician or other medical professional if you have questions or concerns about a medical condition.


  1. NIH News in Health: Digging a Vegetarian Diet. Available at: Accessed 7-31-18.
  2. MedicalXpress: Healthy plant-based diet linked with substantially lower type 2 diabetes risk. Available at: Accessed 8-20-18.
  3. MedicalXpress: New meta-analysis finds a plant-based vegetarian diet is associated with lower cholesterol. Available at: Accessed 7-31-18.
  4. Tuso PJ. Perm J. 2013;17(2):61–66. Available at: Accessed 7-31-18.
  5. Mayo Clinic: Cholesterol: Top foods to improve your numbers. Available at: Accessed 7-31-18.