How to Eat Vegetarian When You Have High Cholesterol
A vegetarian diet is healthy, nutritious, and heart-healthy. By changing your diet, you can lower your cholesterol levels.
Removing meat and dairy products from your diet is one way to lower high cholesterol levels since the saturated fats that raise blood cholesterol come mainly from animal products. A vegetarian diet can reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Vegetarian diets are low in total and saturated fat and high in fiber, which helps lower cholesterol. A well-planned vegetarian diet can be good for your heart and contains all the important nutrients you need. Here’s how to do it.
Potential nutrient deficiencies associated with a vegetarian diet
A well-balanced vegetarian diet can be healthy and nutritious with careful planning. In fact, a cohort study published in August 2019 in the Journal of the American Heart Association compared its results to previous studies on heart disease and diet. The researchers concluded that their findings were consistent with previous studies showing that a diet low in meat and skewed toward vegetarianism was associated with a lower overall risk of heart disease. Here are some tips to make sure you’re getting all the essential nutrients you need.
- Protein You can get all the protein you need from a vegetarian diet. Legumes (beans and peas), beans and soybeans are all rich sources of protein. Good sources of plant-based protein are whole grains, seeds, nuts and some vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts and broccoli, although vegetables are not a major source of protein. Vegetable-based meat substitutes have also evolved considerably in recent years, both in terms of taste and nutrition, and excessive sodium and saturated fat can be avoided by reading nutrition labels.
- Iron A vegetarian diet can increase the risk of iron deficiency. Make sure you have enough plant-based sources of iron, such as dried beans, especially white beans, kidney beans, lentils, spinach, nuts and yeast.
- Vitamin B12 Vegetarians are often deficient in vitamin B12, which can lead to fatigue. Adding nutritional yeast to your diet will ensure adequate intake of vitamin B12. There are many recipes that use it in place of cheese, which contains 100% of the daily recommended value of B12 according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). You can also include fortified products suitable for vegetarians, such as soy milk or cereals fortified with B12, or take B12 supplements, but according to the NIH, you should always try to get most of the nutrient in your diet.
- Zinc, a mineral important for growth and development, is in the top six best sources of zinc, according to the NIH, are meat or seafood. The good news is that grains, nuts and legumes are good sources of zinc.
- Vitamin D If your vegetarian diet doesn’t include dairy products and you don’t get a lot of sun exposure, you may not be getting the vitamin D you need. Dairy products and fatty fish like tuna and salmon are great sources of vitamin D for omnivores. Mushrooms are a good source of vitamin D for vegetarians, but you can supplement your diet with vitamin D and calcium.
How to choose healthy fats
A vegetarian diet can eliminate animal products as a source of saturated fat, but people with high cholesterol levels need to be careful about where the fat comes from and how it is cooked, which can affect cholesterol levels.
In general, try to avoid fried foods and reduce processed foods.
- Avoid trans fats. Many vegetable oils have hydrogen added to them. These are called hydrogenated oils, and they contain high levels of trans fats that can raise cholesterol levels. When cooking, read the labels of butter substitutes and cooking oils carefully to avoid trans fats. Trans fats are also found in processed foods because they have a stable shelf life. Pay special attention to packaged baked goods, microwave popcorn, frozen pizza, frozen pasta and non-dairy coffee creamers.
- Limit saturated fats. The American Heart Association (AHA) says saturated fats raise cholesterol levels and are found primarily in meat and whole dairy products. Despite this effect, there is no longer universal evidence that consumption of all saturated fats causes cardiovascular disease such as heart attack and stroke, and it becomes even more confusing when comparing plant-based saturated fats with animal-based saturated fats. Regarding non-animal saturated fats, as mentioned above, vegetarian meat substitutes such as Beyond Meat often contain high levels of saturated fats. Also note that coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil all contain saturated fats. Try replacing or balancing your saturated fat intake with one of the following heart-healthy oils
- Add heart-healthy oils. Unsaturated fats found in heart-healthy oils such as safflower, corn, olive, canola, sunflower, soybean and peanut oils can help lower cholesterol levels. Consumption of olive oil, in particular, has been shown to have a greater impact on heart health over time. The Harvard University study, published in the March 2020 issue of Circulation, evaluated nearly 64,000 women and 35,000 men over a 24-year period. Those who consumed more than the average amount of olive oil had a 15 percent lower risk of any type of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and more than 20 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease.
- Try low-fat cooking. You can use water instead of oil when sautéing vegetables, or use only a small amount of olive oil instead of sautéing. You might also consider investing in appliances such as air fryers that use very little oil to achieve the same results as frying. Controlling the fat and calories in your meals by grilling, steaming, boiling or poaching will be better than frying. When cooking, reduce the amount of oil or margarine and replace it with water, juice or applesauce.
Eat at restaurants
Eating outdoors and sticking to a vegetarian diet can be difficult. Here are a few tips to help you.
- Plan ahead. Think about what kind of restaurants you want to go to in order to increase your plant-based options. In addition to vegetarian places, Italian, Chinese, Mexican, Thai, Indian, and Japanese restaurants often have more vegetarian options.
- Check the menu ahead of time. Most menus can be found on the restaurant’s website.
- Ask your waiter for help. Don’t assume that your server knows that a dish cooked in chicken broth is not vegetarian, or that lard or jelly is an animal product. Be specific about what you are eating so that there are no surprises at dinner.
- Ask for a change. Many restaurants are happy to substitute meatless pasta or swap baked potatoes for a fried side dish. You can also ask for a meal with unsaturated oils to lower your cholesterol levels.