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Being vegan or vegetarian could help keep your cholesterol levels in check, a new study suggests

Vegetarian food
Vegan and vegetarian diets can be heart-healthy.marilyna/Getty Images
  • A study compared the diets of 2,400 people who were omnivores, vegan, or vegetarian.

  • It found those who didn't eat meat had lower levels of cholesterol than those who did.

  • Plant-based diets tend to contain less saturated fat, which contributes to cholesterol levels.

Vegan and vegetarian diets have been linked to lower levels of cholesterol in a study.

The study, published on Wednesday in European Heart Journal, looked at 30 trials conducted between 1982 and October 2022 to see if there was a link between eating a vegetarian, vegan or omnivorous diet and levels of cholesterol and certain fats and proteins found in the blood.

The authors said this was in light of the fact that cardiovascular diseases, such as heart disease, are the leading cause of death worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

The trials involved almost 2,400 participants across 10 countries, including the US, and lasted between three weeks and 18 months. The participants were aged between 28 and 67, on average.

Some of the studies involved healthy participants who didn't have any underlying conditions, while others looked at those with health conditions that can affect the heart, such as obesity and high blood pressure.

Compared to those who ate meat, vegetarians and vegans saw their total cholesterol levels fall by 7% on average during the period they were studied. The plant-based participants also saw a 10% drop in "bad" LDL cholesterol on average, while levels of a protein called apoB, which helps to carry fat and cholesterol around the body, fell by 14%.

Professor Ruth Frikke-Schmidt, an author of the study, told BBC News: "That corresponds to a third of the effect of a cholesterol-lowering statin [pill] — so that's really substantial."

In the study, the researchers said that plant-based diets tend to be lower in saturated fatty acids, cholesterol, and total fat, which could have had an effect on people's overall cholesterol levels.

Vegans and vegetarians should make sure they're getting nutrients such as vitamin B12

In advice on its website, the American Heart Association says that consuming less red meat is an important part of a "heart-healthy diet" to manage blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Tracy Parker, senior dietitian at the UK-based charity the British Heart Foundation who also wasn't involved in the study, said that cutting down red meat is beneficial for a person's heart, according to evidence, although cutting it out completely isn't necessary. She suggested following the Mediterranean diet.

The study also mentioned the benefits of a Mediterranean diet, which includes high levels of plant-based foods and some unprocessed meat. Insider previously reported that processed meats such as bacon and sausages are linked to heart disease partly because they tend to have high levels of salt in them, which can increase increase blood pressure levels.

Dr. Duane Mellor, a registered dietitian and senior lecturer at Aston Medical School, UK, who was not involved in the study said that while vegan and vegetarian diets can be beneficial to a person's heart health, those planning on dropping meat from their diet should consider how to get nutrients commonly found in meat such as iron, iodine, vitamin B12, and vitamin D.

Read the original article on Insider