It’s National Cholesterol Month

Three Veganuary participants talk about the impact going vegan had on their health.

Cholesterol is a natural fatty substance produced by the liver, transported by the blood and used by every cell in our body. We need cholesterol to keep our cells and digestive systems working well, and to help make vitamin D, but our bodies make all that we need. When we take in more via the foods we eat – or when we eat trans fats or high levels of saturated fats – we can drive up our cholesterol levels, and that can have serious health consequences.

A heart-shaped bowl filled with strawberries and blueberries. High blood pressure is a major global health problem.
Image Credit: Unsplash

There are two types of cholesterol: one thought of as “good” and the other “bad”. The good cholesterol – high-density lipoproteins or HDL – rounds up the bad cholesterol in the blood and takes any that is not needed back to the liver to be broken down.

But if levels of “bad” cholesterol (non-HDL, formerly known as LDL) get too high, it can narrow the arteries, which increases our risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

The Best Diet to Lower Cholesterol

One of the key ways we can take control of our cholesterol levels is through what we eat, and a healthy plant-based diet has been shown to be extremely effective.

Plant-based food contain no cholesterol at all, and tend to be lower in saturated fats, too. And many studies have found cholesterol levels in vegans are lower than in those who consume animal products. A 2019 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, for example, compared cholesterol levels in meat eaters and vegans. It found that white meat such as chicken raised bad cholesterol as much as red meat, but those who ate plant-based had the lowest cholesterol levels of all groups.

Veganuary Participants Tell Their Stories

It takes a blood test to know what our cholesterol levels are, and so most of us don’t realise the positive effects a change in our diets can have. But three former Veganuary participants did before-and-after blood tests, and they were all stunned by the positive results.

Michelle, Edinburgh

Michelle Cuninghame took part in Veganuary 2017. She had always loved animals but having grown up in Hong Kong, “vegan” was not a term she was familiar with. Later, living in the UK, she found Veganuary and thought she’d give it a try. The changes she experienced were profound and unexpected.

Michelle Cuninghame, a Veganuary participant, holding a chicken. She found that her cholesterol levels decreased after going vegan.
Michelle, Veganuary participant. Image Credit: Michelle.

“I had a quick vital stats health check at work three months after going vegan and in that time I had lost 10lbs, my LDL (bad) cholesterol levels had improved and the health specialist was pleased that my HDL (good, the higher the better!) cholesterol levels were double the minimum recommended levels! I also noticed a loss of unnecessary fat and was more energised and less fatigued during the day.”

Morné, London

Morné Rossouw is from the Veganuary Class of 2020. He and his partner had watched The Game Changers, and since both work in the health and medicine sector, they decided to give Veganuary a go. Morné describes this as the best life decision he has ever made, and alongside more energy, better digestion, quicker recovery from exercise, and peace of mind, he found his cholesterol levels tumbled.

Morné, Veganuary participant, sitting outside. His cholesterol levels have been healthy after going vegan.
Morné, Veganuary participant. Image Credit: Morné.

“I did a cholesterol check as I come from a family where some males are prone to having high cholesterol and heart issues. I always did a blood test every year and I decided to see if this diet, after trying many other diets and losing weight, had an effect on my blood cholesterol. I was so amazed to see a great decrease into the healthy range after only three or four months. I have never felt better!”

Emma, Fife

Emma Golder is also a former Veganuary participant from the Class of 2020. Emma had been a big meat eater and signed up to Veganuary as a challenge to increase the amount of plants she ate. As a diabetic, she was searching for ways to improve her health and the more she researched the more benefits she could see. “As a scientist, I couldn’t argue with the potential impact on my health and the environment – two massive motivators for me.”

Emma, Veganuary participant, eating a sandwich. She found that her cholesterol levels came down after going vegan.
Emma, Veganuary participant. Image Credit: Emma.

So, she took the plunge and was amazed by the results.

“I had my cholesterol tested at the end of 2019, before I started Veganuary, then again about four months later – I was amazed to see my reading come down a whole point, and my diabetic specialist team were delighted to see such a change in a short space of time. This is attributed to there being no animal saturated fat in my diet furring up my arteries.”

For Michelle, Morné and Emma, taking part in Veganuary had a huge impact on their health and wellbeing. It’s no wonder, then, that all three have decided to remain vegan / plant-based. Why not join them and try vegan for a month?

Thinking of trying vegan?

Veganuary inspires and supports people all over the world to try vegan for January and beyond. Millions of people have already taken part. Will you join them?