Low-carb vegan diet may lower cholesterol

April 16, 2014

A study published in BMJ Open shows that a plant-based, low-carbohydrate diet may improve weight loss efforts and lower LDL cholesterol. In the study, consumption of a low-carbohydrate vegan diet containing increased protein and fat from gluten and soy products, nuts and vegetables resulted in greater weight loss and lower concentrations of LDL cholesterol compared to a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet.

The six-month study evaluated 39 adult participants (19 control and 20 test participants) and was conducted at a Canadian university-affiliated hospital nutrition research center from April 2005 to November 2006. All participants had high normal to raised LDL cholesterol levels (>3.4 mmol/L at diagnosis) and a body mass index (BMI) >27. Prior to starting, and for the duration of the study, participants who had been taking lipid lowering medications discontinued their use.

The researchers found that the participants who consumed a low-carbohydrate vegan diet saw a greater weight loss compared to those who consumed a high-carbohydrate vegetarian diet that included dairy and egg products (7% vs 6% weight reductions, respectively). In addition, participants following the low-carbohydrate diet achieved reductions of LDL cholesterol concentrations (9%), the “bad” cholesterol that can cause arteries plaque build-up and lead to increased risk of a heart attack. Furthermore, improvements in triglyceride reductions (−0.34 mmol/L) and total cholesterol (−0.62 mmol/L) were noted in the low-carbohydrate diet. There was no treatment difference seen in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels.

“The outcomes of this study show that complementing a low-carbohydrate weight-loss diet with vegetable sources of protein, such as gluten, soy, and nuts, ultimately results in greater cardiovascular benefits—something that hasn’t been shown with low-carbohydrate diets alone,” said Ratna Mukherjea, co-author of the study and Associate Director of Global Nutrition at DuPont Nutrition & Health. “Many well-known weight loss plans focus on limiting carbohydrate intake; and while this can be an effective way to lose weight, replacing caloric intake with proteins from animal products that are often high in saturated fats is not an ideal long-term solution for people who already have higher cholesterol levels.”