Ask a Maui Doctor: Will Going Vegetarian Lower My Cholesterol?
Doctors at Minit Medical answer some of the questions submitted by readers.
Each week, a doctor from Minit Medical Kahului or Lahaina will answer questions that have been submitted by readers. Submit your own medical related questions to our doctors at [email protected].
Questions submitted will be considered for inclusion in the “Ask a Maui Doctor” column.
Q: Will going vegetarian lower my cholesterol?
A: Vegetarian diets have been found to be associated with a number of health benefits including lowered blood cholesterol levels. Other benefits include reduction of chronic disease from lower risk of heart disease, obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, colon and prostate cancer, and hypertension.
These benefits are attributed the improved blood sugar control and improved cholesterol levels that occur with a diet low in saturated fats and high intake of vegetables, fruits, nuts, soy, and whole grains.
A 2015 meta-analysis by the Journal of the American Heart Association showed reductions of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol concentrations with a vegetarian diet intervention on average of 14 points (mg/dL) for Total Cholesterol and 13 points (mg/dL) for LDL (aka “bad cholesterol”) over an average of 24 week period.
The reduction in cholesterol level may seem small, but would correlate with a 10% reduction in risk of heart disease. Triglyceride levels have not been shown to decrease with vegetarian diet. A small reduction in HDL, aka “good cholesterol” has been more associated with vegan as opposed to vegetarian diet but that has not translated to increased risk of heart disease.
The 2016 opinion from the Journal of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states:
“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”
It is important to note that an “appropriately planned vegetarian diet” takes into consideration that vegans and some vegetarians may have lower intakes of vitamin B-12, calcium, vitamin D, zinc, and long-chain n-3 fatty acids.
Vegans and Vegetarians who don’t consume milk or eggs should supplement with these micro-nutrients to prevent complications such as bone fractures from osteoporosis or Vitamin B12 deficiency for example.
For more information on how to plan a vegetarian diet, go to www.eatright.org or visit with a registered dietician and your regular physician to discuss if a vegetarian diet is right for you.
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