Heart healthy vegan and vegetarian diets

Eating plenty of plant foods is a key part of managing raised cholesterol. This means eating plenty of fruit, vegetables, wholegrain cereals, peas, beans, lentils and nuts and choosing foods low in saturated fat and salt.

Some people choose to eat a vegan diet which avoids animal products completely, and others choose to cut down, opting for a vegetarian diet. Whilst these are generally thought to be healthy, it’s important to make sure you’re eating enough of the key nutrients and avoiding foods that are high in saturated fat.

 

Types of plant-based diets

 

  • Vegan. You don’t eat any animal products at all, including honey, dairy and eggs.

  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian. You eat dairy foods and eggs but not meat, poultry or seafood.

  • Ovo-vegetarian. You eat eggs but avoid all other animal foods, including dairy.

  • Lacto-vegetarians. You eat dairy foods but exclude eggs, meat, poultry and seafood.

See the nutrients to pay attention to if you're vegan or vegetarian

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Healthy foundations

Base your diet around these foods for a heart healthy vegetarian diet.

Eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day

A serving is 80g, which is a handful or 3 tablespoons, of fresh, frozen or canned fruit or vegetables.  A serving of dried fruit is 30g or 1 heaped tablespoon. Choose a variety.

Include wholegrain starchy foods at every meal

Such as wholemeal breads and chapattis, brown rice, wholemeal pasta, wholegrain breakfast cereals (including oats), barley, quinoa, popcorn (without added salt and sugar), buckwheat and amaranth. As well as providing fibre, some wholegrains are also a good source of protein.

Eat a variety of protein-rich plant foods

Such as beans, peas, lentils, tofu, soya mince, QuornTM (choose plain, low salt varieties), seitan, unsalted nuts and seeds. Include these in most meals.

Eat a healthy balance of fats

Avoid saturated fats which are found in butter, ghee, full fat dairy foods, coconut products, palm and shea oils, as well as foods made with these, such as cakes, biscuits, chocolates, cheese alternatives and spreads. Replace them with unsaturated fats found in olive oil, rapeseed oil, sunflower oil, corn oil and soya oil. Peanuts, nuts, seeds and avocados are also good sources of these healthy fats. Remember all fats are high in calories, so if you’re watching your weight, watch the portion sizes.

Eat 2 to 3 servings of dairy foods a day 

These should be lower fat and sugar options. If you don’t eat dairy, choose fortified plant-based alternatives. Avoid cheese alternatives made with coconut oil, and coconut-based alternatives to yogurts, as these can be high in saturated fat.

Cut down on sugary foods and drinks

Biscuits, cakes, chocolates and fizzy drinks all contain lots of calories which can lead to weight gain, but they don’t contain many other nutrients or help to fill you up.

Eat the right amount of food to maintain a healthy weight

Find out if you’re a healthy weight and shape, and tips for losing weight.

See our heart-healthy vegetarian recipes

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Or check out our vegan recipes

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Tips for heart healthy plant-based eating

  • Cook from scratch 

    This is the best way to know exactly what you’re eating. Some vegetarian convenience foods and meat alternatives can be quite high in fat and saturated fat.
    Always check the label. A lot of fat is 17.5g or more per 100g. A lot of saturated fat is 5g or more per 100g.
  • Plan your meals 

    Write a shopping list so you know you have all the foods you need to hand to make nutritious meals and healthy snacks.
  • Eat some omega-3 fats

    Long chain omega-3 fatty acids are types of unsaturated fats which are good for your heart health. Oily fish are the best source, but if you don’t eat fish, some plant foods contain a type of omega-3s which your body can convert into the heart-healthy type found in oily fish.
    • Ground linseeds (flaxseeds), chia seeds or hemp seeds. Sprinkle them over salads, yogurt or yogurt alternatives and breakfast cereals, or add them to bread and cake mixes.
    • Linseed (flaxseed) oil or hemp oil. Don’t cook with these oils, but add them to dressings, dips, sauces, or smoothies.
    • Walnuts. Eat between half a handful to one handful daily as a snack, on your breakfast cereals or in salads, for example.

To boost your omegas 3s

The process of converting omega-3s found in plants to the type found in fish isn’t very efficient. So, to help this conversion:

  • cook with vegetable (rapeseed) oil or olive oil instead of sunflower or other oils when cooking
  • choose walnut oil, flax seed oil and linseed oil as dressings on salads and vegetables. Watch the amounts of these oils and use in small amounts.
  • Avoid coconut oil, palm oil, cocoa butter and shea oil

    These are all high in saturated fat and are being used more and more in vegan foods so it’s important to check the labels. Types of foods to watch out for include: 
    • shea butter
    • coconut oil
    • coconut-based alternatives to yogurt
    • cheese alternatives made with coconut oil
    • creamed coconut, canned coconut milk, and cream alternatives based on coconut or palm oils
    • sauces based on coconut milk   
    • desiccated and shredded coconut

See how to follow our Ultimate Cholesterol Lowering Plan if you are vegan

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