Vegan Cholesterol Sources: How Vegans Get Cholesterol


There’s actually not any cholesterol in any plant.

Does that mean that vegans have no cholesterol? 

Of course not, all people need some, you just don’t too much. Instead of getting cholesterol from foods, vegans make all their own from certain fats in our diets.

I’ll go over which foods vegans indirectly get cholesterol from in just a second.

First, a quick refresher on cholesterol. There are 2 main types of cholesterol:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – This is the “bad” cholesterol that can build up in artery walls and lead to heart issues down the line.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) – This is the “good” cholesterol that retrieves any excess cholesterol in your arteries and takes it to your live.

Which Vegan Foods Affect Cholesterol Levels?

There’s a whole bunch of lifestyle factors that affect cholesterol levels (e.g. obesity, diabetes, exercise level, etc.).

But in terms of food, there are only 3 main factors:

  • Dietary cholesterol (i.e. cholesterol in foods) – Since there is none in plants, this is not a concern for vegans.
  • Saturated fat – Note that there are different types of saturated fat (based on the length of carbon chains), and each affects cholesterol differently.
  • Trans fat – These are the only fat that are bad all the time. Ideally, you want zero trans fats in your diet.

As vegans, we’re only interested in the second 2 sources of cholesterol precursors.

Vegan Foods With Saturated Fats

Omnivores get most of their saturated fats from animal products, which is probably not a good thing.

For vegans, there are only a few main sources of saturated fats:

So should you avoid foods with those in them?

No, in fact the opposite!

Research has shown that these types of saturated fats are actually good for you:

We found that eating relatively little of the longer chained saturated fatty acids and consuming plant-based proteins instead was associated with a lowered risk (of myocardial infarction).

Studies on coconut oil show that while it does increase LDL, it also increases HDL cholesterol.

Vegan Foods With Trans Fats

While saturated fats are fairly complex, it’s pretty clear that trans fats are bad.

They come hydrogenated oils, which used to be very common in margarines. Some still have them today, but most margarines (and vegan butters) don’t.

For the most part, just be on the lookout for “hydrogenated oil” on the ingredients list of a product. It still might say “0 trans fats,” but that’s just because they rounded down on the nutritional facts (sneaky, but legal).

The other source of trans fats is cooking oil. If oil is used for frying for a long period of time (we’re talking hours), trans fats will start to form. Still not as much as in margarine, but significant amounts. 

The following types of foods most commonly have trans fats in them:

  • Baked goods – Cakes, pies, cookies, biscuits
  • Margarine
  • Flavored Microwave popcorn
  • Cream-filled candies
  • Doughnuts
  • Deep-fried foods (particularly at fast food restaurants)
  • Frozen pizza (note that Daiya pizza contains 0 trans fats)

Most vegan diets won’t contain much in the way of trans fats, but you should be aware of foods that have them.

Vegan Foods That Improve LDL (“Bad”) Cholesterol Levels

Pretty much every major vegan food group has been linked to improving cholesterol levels in one way or another.

Here are just a few of the most prominent ones:

  • Soy has been heavily studied and is known to reduce LDL cholesterol. (Source)
  • Tree nut intake is linked to lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and lowering other “bad” things like triglycerides. (Source)
  • Numerous studies have shown that oat products improve “serum cholesterol and other markers of cardiovascular disease.” (Source)

Summary: How Vegans Get Cholesterol

There’s no vegan food with cholesterol in it. Vegans make all their cholesterol internally from saturated and trans fats (ideally just saturated ones).

Additionally, vegans in general have excellent cholesterol levels (both LDL and HDL), which is one of the strongest arguments that a vegan diet is potentially healthier than a typical omnivorous one.

That being said, it’s still possible for vegans to have high cholesterol.

Questions About Cholesterol on a Vegan Diet

Can I get cholesterol from a vegan diet?

No, a vegan diet does not naturally provide cholesterol, as it is exclusively found in animal products. Plant-based foods can influence cholesterol levels by providing soluble fiber, which helps to reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad” cholesterol) levels. Including a variety of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes in a vegan diet can contribute to overall heart health.

Can a vegan diet lower cholesterol levels?

Yes, a well-planned vegan diet can be effective in lowering cholesterol levels, particularly LDL cholesterol (source). Plant-based diets are typically rich in soluble fiber, which helps remove excess cholesterol from the body. Additionally, the absence of dietary cholesterol from animal products can contribute to improved cholesterol profiles. Choosing whole, minimally processed plant foods and incorporating sources of healthy fats, such as avocados and nuts, can further support heart health.

Are there any plant-based sources that can raise cholesterol levels?

While plant-based foods do not contain cholesterol, it’s important to be mindful of certain processed and refined plant products that may negatively impact cholesterol levels. For example, some vegan snacks and desserts might be high in saturated or trans fats, which can contribute to elevated cholesterol. Opting for whole, nutrient-dense plant foods and minimizing the intake of processed items is key to maintaining a heart-healthy vegan diet.

About the author

Dale Cudmore

Your friendly neighborhood vegan from Toronto. I've spent over 6 years as a freelance nutrition writer and researcher. During this time, I've tested over 50 vegan protein powders, and over 100 other types of vegan supplements.

Add comment