Lower Your Cholesterol with Plant-Based Foods
In my previous blogs, I have been focusing on wellness and reducing risk factors for lifestyle diseases, because these are preventive and behavioral approaches. This is in contrast to focusing on illnesses and how to cure them with drugs and medical procedures.
Practicing wellness is necessary for avoiding diseases, and plant-based meals are a part of that practice because they improve our health overall. In this post, I want to discuss cholesterol in particular. Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in the blood and used by the body for producing healthy cells, making hormones, bile, and other functions. However, when the amount of cholesterol increases to above normal levels, it is associated with causing harm to blood vessels, leading to Coronary Heart Disease (CHD).
There are two common types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). It’s the elevated level of LDL that causes damage to the blood vessels, leading to CHD, whereas HDL is considered a good fat because it helps lower LDL levels, by transporting LDL to the liver for storage until needed. HDL increase is associated with exercise and healthy meals including good fats from plant sources.
A recent meta-analysis of studies on the long-term relationship between plant-based diets and cholesterol suggests that vegetarians have lower total cholesterol. The study looked at vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, and vegan diets. Vegan diets showed a larger reduction in cholesterol compared to lacto-ovo (dairy and egg inclusive) vegetarian diets.
The study also suggests that high cholesterol does not give us any symptoms or does not make us feel sick per se. This is why other indicators are important such as lifestyle habits, including food intake.
Risk factors for high total cholesterol include the following:
- Unhealthy eating habits;
- Being overweight or obese (body mass index of 30 or more);
- Having fat around the waist (waist circumference of 40 inches or more for men and 35 inches or more for women in general);
- Not being physically active;
- Having diabetes.
Lifestyle, including the types of food consumed, affects the level of cholesterol in the blood. If you want to have a go at managing your own cholesterol level, the following lifestyle and dietary changes are suggested by peer-reviewed research:
- Replacing saturated fats (as in meat, processed meat and dairy products) with good fats found in olive and canola oils as well as avocados and nuts (such as almonds);
- Avoiding trans fats (often found in margarine, packaged cookies and crackers), which increase LDL cholesterol and decrease the good cholesterol (HDL);
- Staying away from foods which have high levels of cholesterol (such as egg yolk, organ meats and whole milk products);
- Eating more fruits and vegetables;
- Decreasing salt intake;
- Including whole grains in your meals;
- Getting some physical exercise daily;
- Avoiding smoking.
If you are leading a healthy lifestyle, including eating plant based meals and taking good fats in moderation, your chances of being overweight become reduced, which in turn lowers your risk of Coronary Heart Disease (CHD).
There are other benefits of plant based meals, apart from keeping your total cholesterol level down. These include helping keep blood sugar under control in people with diabetes; lowering blood pressure and weight; reducing meal and healthcare costs; as well as decreasing the need for medication in certain cases.
Importantly, you can achieve and maintain your wellness by taking a preventive behavioral approach. This could help you avoid drugs and various medical procedures.
Share with us your favorite plant-based food options, and be sure to check out our plant-based cookbooks, Food of Love, and World of Love to see how we keep ourselves well. Check out our booklet of free recipes, and remember, a plant-based diet not only helps you be healthier, it is a very effective way to fight climate change.
This post is written by the ever-energetic and plant powered Margaret Cornelius, MD, (an)altruist at Alchemus Prime.