A systematic review of nearly 50 observational studies and clinical trials has revealed that plant based diets are associated with lower cholesterol. Published in Nutrition Review the study found that those eating plant based vegan diets had decreased total cholesterol, with lower levels of HDL and LDL cholesterol. The authors, Dr. Yoko Yokoyama M.P.H, Susan Levin M.S., R.D., and Dr. Neal Barnard F.A.C.C, reviewed 49 studies across the globe focusing on the long term effects of a plant based diet.

“The immediate health benefits of a plant-based diet, like weight loss, lower blood pressure, and improved cholesterol, are well documented in controlled studies,” says study author Susan Levin.

“We hope to empower patients with new research about the long-term cardiovascular health benefits of a vegetarian diet, which include a reduced risk of a heart attack, stroke, and premature death.”

High levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, known as “bad cholesterol,” have been associated with an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease (CHD). The review found through observational studies a plant based diet is associated with a 22.9 mg/dL reduction in LDL cholesterol and a 3.6 mg/dL reduction in HDL cholesterol, compared to those following an omnivorous diet.

In clinical trials, a plant based diet lowers LDL cholesterol by 12.2 mg/dL and reduces HDL cholesterol by 3.4 mg/dL, compared to control groups following an omnivorous, low-fat, calorie-restricted, or a conventional diabetes diet.

Consumption of vegetarian diets, particularly vegan diets, is associated with lower levels of plasma lipids, which could offer individuals and healthcare professionals an effective option for reducing the risk of heart disease or other chronic conditions. ” The authors reported.

They also noted that hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol) is often under diagnosed and as such under treated. Just a 10% increase in diagnosis and treatment of hyperlipidemia could prevent 8,000 deaths each year. As recommended by the National Cholesterol Education Programme, greater assessment of heart disease risk combined with lifestyle and dietary recommendations by medical professionals, and ongoing monitoring could prevent approximately 20,000 heart attacks, 10,000 cases of coronary heart disease, and save almost $3 billion in medical costs each year in the U.S alone.

“To make any form of health care work and to truly power economic mobility, we have to get healthy,” says co-author, Levin. “The first place to start is by building meals around nutrient-packed, plant-based foods, which fit into nearly every cultural template, taste preference, and budget.”