Unhealthy diets can lead to high cholesterol which may cause chronic diseases such as heart disease and obesity. Previous studies have suggested that both the Mediterranean and vegan diets improve cardiometabolic risk factors, but the latest research shows that a vegan diet is more effective for cholesterol control than a Mediterranean diet.
Understanding cholesterol in your body
Cholesterol travels through your body on two types of lipoproteins carrying cholesterol to and from cells. One is low-density lipoprotein, or LDL. The other is high-density lipoprotein, or HDL.
LDL cholesterol is sometimes called the “bad” cholesterol because it contributes to fatty buildup in arteries. High levels of LDL cholesterol increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. On the contrary, HDL cholesterol, or “good” cholesterol absorbs cholesterol and carries it back to the liver, which can help remove harmful cholesterol from your body, so high levels of HDL cholesterol can lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Weight loss can help reduce your LDL while increasing your HDL and what you eat may form a baseline risk for developing high cholesterol. Those who frequently consume fast food and fried foods such as deep-fried meat and cheese tend to have higher cholesterol and more belly fat. Also, high consumption of processed meats and desserts can negatively impact overall health and lead to weight gain over time.
The vegan diet can help you control cholesterol more efficiently
The low-fat vegan diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, which eliminates animal products. The Mediterranean diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish, low-fat dairy, and extra virgin olive oil, while limiting or avoiding red meat and saturated fats.
A randomized crossover trial, published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, found that compared with a Mediterranean diet, a low-fat vegan diet results in greater changes in total and LDL-cholesterol concentrations.
Specifically, in the trial, total and LDL-cholesterol decreased 18.7 mg/dL (0.5 mmol/L) and 15.3 mg/dL (0.4 mmol/L), respectively, among participants during the vegan phase, compared with 3.1 mg/dL (0.08 mmol/L) and 0.5 mg/dL (0.01 mmol/L), respectively, during the Mediterranean phase. Additionally, the low-fat vegan diet led to greater reductions in body weight, fat mass, and visceral fat among participants.
Other ways to prevent high cholesterol
Apart from a healthy diet and losing weight, moderate amounts of physical activity can also help lower your cholesterol levels. Aerobic exercise such as running, cycling, jogging, and swimming can lower LDL and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Other forms of exercise including yoga, walking, and weight training are also beneficial.
Cigarette smoking is linked to higher cholesterol levels as well as the formation of a damaging form of LDL called oxidized LDL. So, if you are a smoker, quitting smoking is essential.
Moderate consumption of alcohol can raise HDL levels and lower LDL. Moderate consumption means one serving a day for women and one to two servings per day for men, with a serving referring to 12 ounces of beer or 5 ounces of wine. However, drinking more than three alcoholic drinks a day could increase your chances of heart disease.
All in all, to lower LDL cholesterol levels and stay healthy, start with these simple lifestyle changes.