The Diet Change That Could Slash Your Cholesterol Levels

Time to clear out the fridge.
Kseniya Ovchinnikova via Getty Images

We are all aware that eating vegetables is good for you, but cutting out meat and sticking to a strict vegetarian or vegan diet from an early age could do wonders for your health according to research.

Vegetarian and vegan diets may be linked to lower levels of cholesterol and fats in your blood, a new study suggests.

Plant-based diets play a significant role in reducing blocked arteries, researchers found after analysing evidence from studies published since 1982.

This would mean reducing the risk of heart and blood vessel diseases, such as stroke and heart attacks.

Vegetarian and vegan diets were associated with a 14% reduction in all proteins that clog arteries, the study found.

Additionally, the researchers found this correlated to a third of the effect of taking cholesterol-lowering medications such as statins.

Professor Ruth Frikke-Schmidt, chief physician at the Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, Denmark, conducted the study together with medical student Caroline Amalie Koch and Dr. Emilie Westerlin Kjeldsen, also from the Rigshospitalet.

“We found that vegetarian and vegan diets were associated with a 14% reduction in all artery-clogging lipoproteins as indicated by apoliprotein B (apoB),” Frikke-Schmidt said.

“This corresponds to a third of the effect of taking cholesterol-lowering medications such as statins, and would result in a 7% reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease in someone who maintained a plant-based diet for five years,” she adds.

Statin treatments which are medications that reduce the level of cholesterol in your blood are better than plant-based diets in lowering fats and cholesterol levels.

“However, one regimen does not exclude the other, and combining statins with plant-based diets is likely to have a synergistic effect, resulting in an even larger beneficial effect,” Frikke-Schmidt explains.

She continues: “If people start eating vegetarian or vegan diets from an early age, the potential for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease caused by blocked arteries is substantial.

“Importantly, we found similar results across continents, ages, different ranges of body mass index, and among people in different states of health,” she adds.

The researchers looked at 30 trials with a total of 2,372 people, published between 1982 and 2022.

They looked at the effect of vegetarian or vegan diets versus diets that included meat on levels of all types of cholesterol, bad cholesterol, triglycerides – a type of fat found in the blood, and apoliprotein B – a protein that helps to carry fat and cholesterol in blood.

The people in the studies either followed a vegetarian or vegan diet, or continued with an omnivorous diet (which includes meat and dairy products). The length of time on the diets ranged from 10 days to five years, with an average of 29 weeks.

There was also a 10% reduction in bad cholesterol levels and a 14% reduction in apoB levels, the study published in the European Heart Journal found.

“Plant-based diets are key instruments for changing food production to more environmentally sustainable forms, while at the same time reducing the burden of cardiovascular disease,” Frikke-Schmidt said.

“We should be eating a varied, plant-rich diet, not too much, and quenching our thirst with water,” she says.