By Published On: 25 June 2013533 words2.7 min read

Editors Note: Have you ever wondered if you need to worry about your cholesterol levels as a vegan? It’s a common question. To get the answer, I turned to a registered dietitian specializing in vegan nutrition, Anya Todd MS, RD. Here’s her advice. – KD Angle-Traegner

Do Vegans Need To Worry About Cholesterol Levels?

Maybe. Should you be aware of your levels? Definitely.

Cholesterol has specific functions within our bodies, such as hormone production and maintaining cell membranes. Luckily, our bodies manufacture all that is required. Therefore, anything we consume is going above and beyond what is needed and can cause problems.

Where Do We Get Cholesterol?

Animal products are the only sources of dietary cholesterol. So, if you are already consuming a vegan diet, a good portion of your cholesterol worries can go away; however, don’t break out the celebratory vegan cupcake yet. Much research has shown that your saturated and trans fat intakes have more effects on your body’s cholesterol production than previously believed.

Translation: vegans consuming a diet rich in hydrogenated oils increase their risk of having higher levels.

The Cardiovasular Effects of Cholesterol

The “junk-food” vegan is not immune to the cardiovascular effects of cholesterol. Elevated cholesterol levels can lead to cardiovascular disease, which opens the door to many ailments, including heart attacks and strokes.

Heart disease is the number one killer in our country. It is referred to by medical professionals, including the renowned Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study, as “a disease of affluence” because it is a condition that exists predominately in Westernized cultures where the hamburgers are plentiful, and the expanding waist sizes show it.

Thousands of invasive medical procedures are performed every day in hospitals from LA to NYC to repair the cardiac damage caused by the disease. Many will need to be done again, as they are only bandages to the underlying problem for most patients; a nutrient-deficient diet.

What Are The Current Recommendations?

Studies across the board show that vegans have lower blood cholesterol levels than their vegetarian and omnivorous counterparts. Your cholesterol levels break down into three parts: HDL, LDL, and triglycerides. HDL is considered the “good” cholesterol, while both LDL and triglycerides have harmful effects. It is important to note that your total cholesterol level is a reflection of all three values combined.

The current recommendation is for levels under 200 mg/dl; however, there is much belief that levels of 150 mg/dl are more desirable based on population studies.

Conclusion

There is indeed a genetic component to your risk of having elevated levels, and if that is the category into which you fall, feel free to curse your Grandpa Floyd.

Yet, for most of us, the choices we make about what foods we put on our plates make all the difference.

When we speak of cardiac health, we must also mention that fiber, Vitamin B12, and Omega-3 fatty acids are also essential nutrients to consume regularly.

A whole foods vegan diet not only reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease, but it can also lower your risk of other chronic diseases of affluence, like cancer and diabetes. Now that is the reason for a celebratory vegan bran muffin!

By Published On: 25 June 2013533 words2.7 min read

Editors Note: Have you ever wondered if you need to worry about your cholesterol levels as a vegan? It’s a common question. To get the answer, I turned to a registered dietitian specializing in vegan nutrition, Anya Todd MS, RD. Here’s her advice. – KD Angle-Traegner

Do Vegans Need To Worry About Cholesterol Levels?

Maybe. Should you be aware of your levels? Definitely.

Cholesterol has specific functions within our bodies, such as hormone production and maintaining cell membranes. Luckily, our bodies manufacture all that is required. Therefore, anything we consume is going above and beyond what is needed and can cause problems.

Where Do We Get Cholesterol?

Animal products are the only sources of dietary cholesterol. So, if you are already consuming a vegan diet, a good portion of your cholesterol worries can go away; however, don’t break out the celebratory vegan cupcake yet. Much research has shown that your saturated and trans fat intakes have more effects on your body’s cholesterol production than previously believed.

Translation: vegans consuming a diet rich in hydrogenated oils increase their risk of having higher levels.

The Cardiovasular Effects of Cholesterol

The “junk-food” vegan is not immune to the cardiovascular effects of cholesterol. Elevated cholesterol levels can lead to cardiovascular disease, which opens the door to many ailments, including heart attacks and strokes.

Heart disease is the number one killer in our country. It is referred to by medical professionals, including the renowned Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study, as “a disease of affluence” because it is a condition that exists predominately in Westernized cultures where the hamburgers are plentiful, and the expanding waist sizes show it.

Thousands of invasive medical procedures are performed every day in hospitals from LA to NYC to repair the cardiac damage caused by the disease. Many will need to be done again, as they are only bandages to the underlying problem for most patients; a nutrient-deficient diet.

What Are The Current Recommendations?

Studies across the board show that vegans have lower blood cholesterol levels than their vegetarian and omnivorous counterparts. Your cholesterol levels break down into three parts: HDL, LDL, and triglycerides. HDL is considered the “good” cholesterol, while both LDL and triglycerides have harmful effects. It is important to note that your total cholesterol level is a reflection of all three values combined.

The current recommendation is for levels under 200 mg/dl; however, there is much belief that levels of 150 mg/dl are more desirable based on population studies.

Conclusion

There is indeed a genetic component to your risk of having elevated levels, and if that is the category into which you fall, feel free to curse your Grandpa Floyd.

Yet, for most of us, the choices we make about what foods we put on our plates make all the difference.

When we speak of cardiac health, we must also mention that fiber, Vitamin B12, and Omega-3 fatty acids are also essential nutrients to consume regularly.

A whole foods vegan diet not only reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease, but it can also lower your risk of other chronic diseases of affluence, like cancer and diabetes. Now that is the reason for a celebratory vegan bran muffin!

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  1. Donna September 11, 2019 at 2:19 pm - Reply

    diet only contributes 20% of cholesterol the rest is what the liver decides to make

  2. ALAN PATTI February 16, 2019 at 10:53 am - Reply

    I went totally Vegan and my LDL / bad cholesterol jumped from 81 to 100 in 4 months
    I’m extremely concerned because I had a quadruple bypass 2 years ago
    Is there any truth to the idea that you make more bad cholesterol if you’re not eating any?

  3. Jessica September 18, 2018 at 9:17 pm - Reply

    I have been vegan for 8 years, I don’t drink alcohol, I dont smoke, i am about 5’5″ and 105 pounds 29 years old asd work out about 4 times per week. I just got my blood work done very confidently thinking i would have no issues whatsoever. LDL is high and total is high. I rarely if ever eat any processed foods. Must be bad genes :(

  4. Laurie August 20, 2018 at 11:25 am - Reply

    I have been Vegan for 15 years. Never a cholesreol issue. Now want life ins. Am told my number is 397! Not a junk foodie. Mostly rsw. Steamed. Use Braggs daily? I am not believing results. Help me please!

  5. Charlotte June 21, 2018 at 3:36 pm - Reply

    I’ve been vegan since July of ’17 , my total cholesterol was 138 in August of ’17 on cholesterol meds, I was so exited after being a vegan for only 1 month my cholesterol was fabulous! I stopped cholesterol meds (with doctors permission) in Jan ’18. I had a blood test yesterday, couldn’t wait to see the results! My overall cholesterol is 236, I couldn’t believe my eyes, I’m in shock and so disappointed. I haven’t touched dairy in 11 months. I won’t go back for ethical reasons but so sad right now, I guess I’ll be back on meds after I see the doctor.

  6. Marcin Butlak May 16, 2018 at 5:21 am - Reply

    I was already on an vegetarian diet and couldn’t bring down my total cholesterol levels below 200. So I decided to go for true vegan diet which means eat only full plant based diet. No oils, no processed foods, no sugars etc… After a month on this diet my total cholesterol dropped to 141. Im very happy with the current results and will continue my journey.

  7. Valery February 15, 2018 at 1:43 pm - Reply

    Just came up on this article. I became a vegan (WFPB) about 11 months ago and had my blood tested twice. in January 2018 my total cholesterol level was 245 (HDL 50), after 6 weeks of WFPB it was 184 but now, after 11 months it’s back to 212 (HDL 71). My naturopath is not worried, she said she’s most concerned over triglycerides and they came down from 161 to 90. My blood work looks great, I’m not anemic and have very high immunity (backed up by no cold & flu this season!), I have more energy than I remember ever having and I’m now over 50 and I lost 20 pounds (mostly belly fat). I would like my cholesterol to drop and will try to limit nuts and nut butters a bit more and eating out less. However, I’m not going back to eating animal products ever again because I feel so good every day. I will agree with my naturopath and won’t worry about the cholesterol level for now and get it checked annually.

    • Valery February 15, 2018 at 1:44 pm - Reply

      sorry TC of 245 was January 2017

  8. Ali February 10, 2018 at 2:56 pm - Reply

    Please also consider high cholesterol as a hereditary issue. I have been vegan for years with no cholesterol problem as late as six months ago when I had my medical. I went for a stress test last week and I was told that my cholesterol is high and have a slightly narrowed artery. I do not smoke, drink and maintain a healthy life style. All male members of my family around age of 65 end up with high cholesterol as I am now. I am not discouraged and will continue with my vegan life style since it is an ethical commitment.

  9. Sylvia X December 2, 2017 at 4:33 am - Reply

    I am another female vegan with high cholesterol levels – total at 238. While I admit that I too often add olive oil to my salads and veggie stews, I am very frustrated that committing to a vegan diet is not doing to my body what vegan gurus promise it would do. My cholesterol levels were 125-150 at the time I was in my 40’s and a vegetarian. Now I am 60, weigh 128 lbs, am vegan for a few years with a disappointing result. I exercise regularly, drink very little alcohol, do mot smoke and eat loads of veggies. Yes, some of my foods are processed, junk or too fatty and I will eliminate them completely from my diet. But I cannot get over the fact that a friend of mine lost 50 lbs and dropped her cholesterol level from 230’s down to 130’s on animal food diet (loads of meat, fish, dairy), veggies and no carbs. It crushed my heart since I am vegan mostly out of ethical reasons…am I hurting myself?
    I will report back in a few weeks after I restrict my diet to no junk, no oils but why do I have to completely avoid oils why my carnivorous friend eats tablespoons of various oils each day in addition to saturated fat and cholesterol in meats and dairy?

  10. Kristina December 1, 2017 at 4:24 pm - Reply

    I have to disagree. You do need to worry about your cholesterol levels as a vegan- not from being too high, but from being too low! Cholesterol is essential in all of our cells. And I just saw a naturopath that looked over my blood tests because I was suffering from depression and hormonal acne. And low and behold, my cholesterol was too low at 113 with my ratio at 1.64. Low cholesterol is linked to memory loss, depression, increased risk of cancer, hormonal imbalances, and “low drive” physically, emotionally and sexually.

    • Steph Sanzaro August 23, 2018 at 5:50 pm - Reply

      What did she recommend that you do?

  11. Mario Improzato October 25, 2017 at 3:27 pm - Reply

    I started on an entire vegan diet in August of 2016. Since then, my total cholesterol went from 187 to 300. My triglycerides went from 115 to 263. My HDL went from 95 to 77 and my LDL went from 69 to 170. Either my fasting blood test went crazy or I’m doing something drastically wrong.

    • Judith M Mead December 11, 2017 at 3:30 pm - Reply

      What did you find out about this? I too have been vegan for 8 months and had the same kind of experience???

    • Holly January 4, 2018 at 11:18 pm - Reply

      That sounds just like me!.. it making me worried.

    • Carlos July 16, 2018 at 1:19 am - Reply

      Sorry to tell you that all vegans are in future trouble…they die more of dementia and Alzheimer’s because of the lack of it.
      I would think about this lifestyle change…be well!
      BTW, I know it can be done but current studies show meat eaters live the same if not a bit longer than vegans….crazy I know
      Do want you need, be happy with your decision

  12. Bethsheba August 29, 2017 at 9:39 am - Reply

    You are an animal. Some people who go very low fat force their animal body to produce cholesterol, therefore making it higher in their blood. You need to add back in some healthy oil. Mainly to help you absorb certain vitamins. There is scientific proof out there. Im not going to post it. Google is everyone’s friend. I hate to see people leaving the vegan lifestyle because they simply wont eat a darn avocado.

  13. Chris May 3, 2017 at 6:39 am - Reply

    Yes, you should keep an eye on your cholesterol level. As a vegan my total cholesterol got to under 100. Because of this my body started cannibalizing the cholesterol in my brain. I started to get confused and could not effectively complete my job that I’d done for 10 years. I had a hard time focusing and understanding basic things that I’d done for years which is very scary in your 30’s. I’m not normal, I realize this, but not everyone can produce enough cholesterol on their own so please watch your levels. As for being vegan it basically reversed my diabetes which was a great thing and the reason I went vegan. I now however eat chicken, turkey, fish and occasionally beef every day. My total cholesterol 7 years later is still only 120-125, checked 3-4 times a year, and my functional medicine doctor keeps telling me I need to up the cholesterol.

    • Charles May 8, 2017 at 2:17 pm - Reply

      Your condition is extremely rare, and usually genetic. The vast majority of people need to get their cholesterol as low as they can possibly get it, and don’t have to worry about a thing. And that’s because our cells produce cholesterol, and our livers are particularly good at it.

      Also, your decision to go back on meat is suspicious if you truly were a caring vegan. Since being vegan basically means causing as little harm as possible, why are you eating animals to get cholesterol when you can simply incorporate palm and coconut oil in your cooking? And if that wasn’t enough, butter, and yogurt? It looks to me your justifying your taste for meat.

      .

      • Nigel July 22, 2017 at 9:06 am - Reply

        He clearly said he did it to reverse his diabetes, NOT because he wanted to be a caring vegan

  14. pbuscemi February 16, 2017 at 8:37 am - Reply

    My wife and I eat a whole plant food diet. My total cholesterol is 169, hers’ is 220. We have zero cholesterol intake. Neither of us take any medications. She is not obese but does have a bit of belly . She’s 60 , I’m 70 . I work out with aerobics 5 – 6 hrs a week ,she maybe 1. However she does eat more than I. Perhaps 1.5 times as much. We both weigh about 140 lbs, both about 5’6″. My question is can stored fat increase cholesterol production by the liver to account for her high LDL+HDL levels

    • Charles May 8, 2017 at 3:15 pm - Reply

      Here’s my two sense:

      I’m assuming by “whole plant food” you mean absolutely no cooking oils, no processed foods containing oils, and very limited processed whole grains like whole wheat pasta, and bread. A lot of people still consider these “whole plant foods,” and they’ll also often have palm and other oils added. Also, nuts are loaded with fat, and of course, excess calories.

      When Dr.Esselstyne puts people on strict diets to lower their dangerous cholesterol levels, he also tells them to stay off nuts completely, and non fat-free soy milk, and anything else with any saturated fat. Olive oil, for example, is loaded with saturated fat.

      If your still on these things, cutting these things out of your diet may bring your wives cholesterol down, and yours, as well, without having to get too technical.

  15. DaveQB January 28, 2017 at 6:23 am - Reply

    Thanks for the article. When you said “our country” I assumed you meant Australia and you assumed your readers are American only. Assumptions huh.

    • r August 20, 2017 at 4:45 pm - Reply

      Hey Ausy, what are you doing with an American football

  16. […] Organizations such as PETA have worked on spreading the word about the harmful effects of not only consuming animal products, but they also show disturbing videos and images of the harsh reality that is the meat industry. They also offer many services and tips to help vegan beginners, which helps individuals out tremendously. With the environment constantly changing, people are coming to the conclusion that the meat industry does not help the environment. All the livestock they produce for markets affect the environment in a negative way. If more people were to become vegan, there would be reduced rates of illnesses, such as high cholesterol and diabetes. It is a widespread fact that all foods that are considered to be vegan have little to no cholesterol and have less sugar than your average foods according to YourDailyVegan.com.  […]

  17. S May 28, 2016 at 3:10 am - Reply

    See this is what I’m talking about. The idea is that excess calcium and lack of magnesium causes the heart attacks not just vein clogs because it hardens things so now I’m scared, as a vegan does my body produce enough cholesterol? Since I don’t eat any can my body still make it? Should I eat some hydrogenated oil ? Thanks
    http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/ciencia/ciencia_industryhealthiermedica172.htm

    • Charles May 8, 2017 at 3:20 pm - Reply

      All animals bodies make cholesterol. Carnivores and omnivores have protections against the bad cholesterol. Herbivores don’t have those biological protections, and that’s why herbivores like rabbits, primates, giraffes, and humans can get atherosclerosis when they consume animal products.

      If someone has a problem making cholesterol, it’s probably genetic, and/or a problem with their liver. It’s extremely rare. Try to google: Should I get more cholesterol?

  18. S May 28, 2016 at 3:04 am - Reply

    Hi

    But some research is showing high cholesterol levels is healthy
    For instance protective against PARKINSONS
    As a vegan I’m worried my cholesterol may be too low
    Can I eat hydrogenated oils to raise it?
    Thanks!
    Ps: the guy from the “calcium lie” also says high cholesterol is better, not worse ?

    • Charles May 8, 2017 at 3:25 pm - Reply

      The risks associated with high cholesterol, and really that’s anything above 150mg/dl, are well documented.

      Hydrogenated oils are dangerous.

      If you want to raise your cholesterol eat more nuts, and coconuts, coco butter, etc…

  19. Wayne Lilly July 23, 2015 at 8:53 am - Reply

    I know this is an older article, but I just stumbled upon it – thank Google ;-) My in-laws are vegan and struggled to find a supplement for Omegas. There has recently been a product released that is completely plant based with Omega3•6•9+5•7. I am not vegan but I take it because my Doc gave me one more shot to avoid meds. I hate the fish aftertaste so I am thrilled to have found it. Let me know if you have any interest in learning about it.

    • Technus August 3, 2015 at 12:45 pm - Reply

      Have you tried ground flaxseed?

  20. John January 27, 2014 at 8:17 am - Reply

    Great post Anya.

    @Brynanna – your liver will manufacture LDL cholesterol from VLDL (very low density lipoproteins) which are themselves manufacured from triglycerides. 188 is not ridiculously high, although 36 HDL is somewhat low for a female, but not drastically so. The tendency towards low HDL and high triglycerides is one of the common genetic hands many of us (including myself) have been dealt.

    Translation: You can try to lower your triglycerides, and if you succeed, your LDL will likely fall as well. If you are eating a lot of sugars (including fruit sugars) then your triglycerides can rise from that. If you eat more complex starches and shift your carb/protein ratios a bit, they well might fall. Complex fatty acids (flax oil) can help as well. LDL can also be lowered directly by increased *soluable* fiber intake, such as oat bran, rice bran, and if you don’t mind the taste, psyllium husk like metamucil. This is because those fibers act as bile sequestering agents, causing bile excreted into the intestine to be bound and excreted, forcing your liver to make more bile, which it does by taking LDL cholesterol and breaking it down.

    HDL is difficult to raise, since it is largely a component of genetics. Two things work: Cardio exercise, and niacin. If you want, you can try taking niacin (but *only* nicotinic acid – NOT niacinamide) in large doses – building up to 2G timed release or 3G instant release. ONLY do this after talking to a doctor, as you NEED to get your liver functions checked before and during that therapy. In my case, 2G time-release niacin doubled my HDL, combined with jogging, in a couple months.

    Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor. Not even close. I’m just a guy with two distinct displipidemia genes from each parent, and have already had heart problems starting at age 42. I’m not on track, but I take a number of meds and work really hard at it. Your numbers look like you could be in great shape without too much trouble. You’re lucky. :)

    Talk to a doctor and ask about all this, and best of luck!

    -John

    • Dawn Michelle April 21, 2016 at 9:58 pm - Reply

      John, you are not correct when telling someone their LDL will decrease if triglycerides reduce. While being vegan, my triglycerides reduced from 99 to 58 and during this time my LDL increased from 130 to 180. Most recently my LDL increased to 267 and my triglycerides barely increased to 70. Triglycerides are directly related to refined carbohydrate consumption, alcohol consumption and artificial sweetener use. If you eliminate those, triglycerides will naturally decrease. This doesn’t mean your LDL will.

  21. Bryanna January 21, 2014 at 12:31 pm - Reply

    I just got some routine bloodwork done and I am very confused. I am a 29 year old healthy female. I have been a strict vegan for 14 years. I do not eat trans fat or junk food. I do not drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes. I exercise 3 to 5 times a week. I am a normal weight. My blood work came back with an HDL of 36, LDL of 136, resulting in a total cholesterol of 210. My triglycerides level is 188. What is going on?

    • Johan September 4, 2014 at 10:17 pm - Reply

      It may not be your diet, cholesterol issues can be partially hereditary too :(

    • Common Sense March 2, 2018 at 8:42 am - Reply

      The numbers are personal and not comparable across individuals with different genetics. Numbers are only comparable within an individual, meaning your numbers are much lower than they would have been with worse lifestyle choices.

      Someone with good genetics would have better numbers than you with horrible lifestyle choices yet if they improved their lifestyle their numbers would be even lower. And it’s possible they could have so good genetics that they would not benefit much at all from healthy lifestyle. Healthy lifestyle for you with bad genetics is actually much more important than to someone with good genetics.

      Also “I do not eat trans fat or junk food” is vague, irrelevant and not a useful description of a diet. “I am a normal weight” is vague and useless (and if you are american, “normal” means obese), what is your actual weight, height and body fat %?

  22. Devon January 21, 2014 at 8:41 am - Reply

    I recently got a high blood pressure scare, my pressure was 143/114!
    No idea what causes this because I don’t smoke or seldom drink. After going vegan, for a week, I feel great and can swear my pressure has normalized. Could it be caused solely by cholesterol?